A Swindon day resource centre for adults with learning difficulties is set to launch anew outreach programme.
The Open Door Centre has been awarded almost £11,800 from Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to cover the cost of an outreach worker.
The fund has distributed more than £1.5m through more than 300 grants. A £100,000 donation to the fund from the Oakfield housing development in Swindon, sponsored by Nationwide, was used for the Open Door Centre grant.
The centre, which meets at St Barnabas Church Hall in Gorse Hill, is eagerly waiting to see if all restrictions are lifted next month so it can welcome back every member five days a week.
Until then it is only allowed to have 21 of the 120 members on its books in for just a few hours each day - but even that is a source of joy according to fundraiser Claire Bouverie-Brine.
She said: “I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hear that those people feel they have got their lives back. It makes you appreciate how much they enjoy and rely on coming here.
“When we had to tell them we were closing due to the covid restrictions there were tears, despair and even anger because they found it difficult to understand why they weren’t allowed to come.
"We were obviously concerned about how they were going to cope without coming every day so we began making regular phone calls and set up a hot meal service.”
The centre has been producing hot meals every day, even when the centre was closed, to either be delivered to members living on their own or made available as a takeaway.
“By doing that it has also helped us keep in touch with them to check on their wellbeing, answer any queries they might have or just give them some reassurance,” said Mrs Bouverie-Brine.
Once the centre is back to normal the outreach worker will target members who are worried about returning to the centre because many of them have been alarmed by covid.
“We have been trying to explain to them and get them to understand what is going on and what they can and can’t do but it can be very difficult without alarming them," said Mrs Bouverie-Brine.
"You have to tell them in a way that they can understand."
The outreach worker will be able to see people at home and help to deal with their fears.
The role will also involve supporting members who go out on work experience or into jobs by being there to assist with paperwork and make sure they settle in.
“We have been getting phone calls about new members joining over the last few months but we’ve had to say they will have to wait until June,” said Mrs Bouverie-Brine. “The outreach worker will be able to visit potential new members before they join to find out more about them, explain what we do and help them settle in.”
She added that the 35-year-old charity had a long history of helping its members develop socially and enjoy being able to take control of at least part of their lives.
“This is the only place in Swindon where they can be themselves,” she said. “They aren’t forced to come and they can say what they want or don’t want to do. All the activities and trips out are suggested by the members, they are at the forefront of the decision-making.
“When they first join some can a bit apprehensive and may not speak very much but then within a few weeks you see their confidence begin to grow, they interact and make friends. Nearly every member has got a success story.”
A year of cancelled events has taken a toll on the group’s finances with many of the staff furloughed or part-furloughed.
“It has been catastrophic for fundraising because we’ve just not been able to do very much,” said Mrs Bouverie-Brine.
“We are planning to have a stall at Swindon Pride on August 7 and at the MFOR Festival at Lydiard Park on August 21 but obviously it is going to take a while to get back on track, that’s why we’ve been so pleased to receive this grant.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation joint chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “The Open Door Centre is incredibly important to its members because it gives them acceptance, dignity and friendship. It is also an important resource for carers and families.
“We are delighted to support the new outreach work because it is going to be an important step towards a return to normality.”
To donate to the Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund or to find out how to apply for a grant, visit wiltshirecf.org.uk