DOZENS of isolated people with learning difficulties have been helped to fend off loneliness and boredom through the lockdown.
Swindon Advocacy Movement has been awarded £9,900 from Wiltshire Community Foundation's Swindon and Wiltshire Coronavirus Response Fund - which has now raised more than £900,000 and distributed £570,000 to 152 groups - to produce weekly activity packs and keep in touch with vulnerable clients by telephone.
SAM, based in Sanford Street, works with people aged over 18 who have learning difficulties. It helps them to become independent, join in activities in the community and learn everyday skills for work or volunteering.
SAM uses activities including cooking, using public transport and budgeting to enable clients to go out and about in the community.
But chief executive Dawn Dixon said she and her staff became concerned for their clients when the lockdown began. “Most of our clients don’t have internet and many of them were stuck inside so we were worried about them being left isolated with little or no support,” she said.
“Even those with support were very lonely and unable to see their friends. We had a small number of families with learning difficulties who were in a lot of need and didn’t have access to food or medicines. The lockdown had a dramatic effect on a lot of our clients, and we were very worried about them.”
The team began producing activity packs for a handful of the most vulnerable clients. “There was so much on the internet and our clients just couldn’t access anything,” said Mrs Dixon. “The activities included simple recipes, games and puzzles and colouring – anything to keep them occupied and entertained.”
Each pack is tailor-made for each client, with the kind of puzzles and games volunteers know they enjoy. Mrs Dixon added: “We followed them up with phone calls to get feedback and chat about what they had done. They really appreciated the packs because it meant someone was in touch each week.”
Word spread about the packs and the entertainment and sense of belonging they were bringing, and demand for them began to grow. Swindon Borough Council even asked the group to take referrals from other groups around the town.
“We had to assemble a small team to gather the material, put the packs together and deliver them,” said Mrs Dixon. “It was a lot of work coming up with a new pack every week for each client but the feedback we got was so good. It has meant a lot to them because some of them are still afraid to go out even now.”
The group has been producing more than 70 packs a week but will begin scaling down as its regular activities return.
“We will be cutting down on the packs a little bit as we restart some of our activities and other groups are starting up theirs, like Ipsum’s art classes, so we are signposting our clients to them to encourage them to get out and about again,” said Mrs Dixon.
“The grant we have had from the Wiltshire Community Foundation has made a massive difference and has allowed us to not furlough a member of staff and to keep in touch with our clients through the packs. There would have been a lot of them suffering added mental health and wellbeing issues and loneliness without them.”
Wiltshire Community Foundation interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We have been really pleased to support so many groups who have adapted their services to keep supporting vulnerable people through the lockdown.
"Even though restrictions are easing a little, we know the need out there is still huge and our Coronavirus Response Fund will be as vital as ever in the coming months.”
SAM's website is at swindonadvocacy.org.uk
To find out about the community foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund, go to wiltshirecf.org.uk