Listening to people with learning disabilities

7th July 2022

A critical part of Norfolk and Waveney Integrated Care System is the work that charities do in partnership with the NHS and other partner organisations.

About with Friends is one such charity that makes sure its members’ voices are heard.

The North Norfolk-based organisation has a mission of creating opportunities and support for people with learning disabilities to live the life they choose.

That, of course, became much harder during the Coronavirus pandemic, particularly when restrictions were being placed on how we could all live our lives.

The charity’s founder and Chief Executive Officer, Helen Dalton-Hare, picks up the story.

“Our members were stuck at home,” she said. “During that time, Covid was on the news morning, noon and night so a lot of people were incredibly anxious.

“We never stopped, continuing our outreach programme, but our day services couldn’t run at that stage. We had to find different things to do and so started putting together Facebook shows every day.

“Our shows were a real variety to give them respite from the situation. We did cooking demos, karaoke, quizzes. We got huge numbers and our members loved them.”

The shows were so successful that NHS Norfolk and Waveney Clinical Commissioning Group (now NHS Norfolk and Waveney) got in touch to see if they could do an event together. They set up a Facebook live event that was a chance for About With Friends’ members to ask questions and raise any issues that they had with the pandemic. The first event was held in the summer of 2020, with a follow-up the year after.

Sarah-Jane Ward, Associate Director of Quality and Care at NHS Norfolk and Waveney and a senior nurse, took part.

She said: “The events were done in a fun way although they dealt with serious topics. As a nurse I was able to help answer their health questions and they could come away from the event feeling that they were less anxious about Covid.

“The second event was about vaccinations, and we sped up vaccinations for people with learning disabilities. We also supported people with learning disabilities and autism to go out more than once a day because their daycare had stopped and they needed a clear structure to their day.

“It was a great way of engaging with our communities. Speaking with our residents really helps to make the connections to your day-to-day work.”

The second event was hosted by About With Friends members themselves.

Helen said: “The second event was talking about the booster vaccine, and it showed that our members would be very glad of a booster. There were also some issues around how our members were being communicated with which we raised during the meeting.”

Alongside the events, About With Friends did everything it could to support its members. These efforts ranged from delivering meals, picking up medicines and even visiting people in a bus that they converted into a tea room!

Since then, the charity has continued to play an active role in the development and delivery of health services. They work closely with Healthwatch Norfolk, with their members giving feedback on marketing materials to make sure that it is accessible to people with learning disabilities.

Helen says: “Over the past couple of years we have worked really strongly with the health and care system and different projects Healthwatch are doing. We can access people that Healthwatch can’t easily access and give them really good feedback.

“We are valued as a provider, and we are doing lots with them and that will continue.”