STAFF from Carlisle Mencap have been involved in projects to make sure people with learning disabilities and their families are coping during the Covid-19 crisis.

The projects – Safer Together and Recovering Together – have been aimed at people in Cumbria with learning disabilities and autism and their families who may have been struggling to cope mentally and physically with the stresses and restrictions of the coronavirus lockdown.

Safer Together was the first project set up thanks to a £6,556 grant from the Cumbria Community Foundation while the Recovering Together follow-up project came from the Foundation’s Covid-19 Psychological Support Fund and the Cumbria Covid-19 Response Fund – a total of £20,000.

Safer Together involves a team of three from the charity – which provides support and services for more than 500 adults and children with learning disabilities and their families across Cumbria – making visits and phone calls to help families who may be struggling to cope because of lockdown and to make sure individuals don’t harm themselves or are tempted to because of the stresses and restrictions of the coronavirus crisis.

The Recovering Together is running for a year and aims to get people who may have become physically unfit and mentally depressed to start doing keep fit activities and, when possible, getting out and about. This include a one-day-a-week video platforms and personal visits from the charity’s staff to persuade vulnerable people to get out and about again. This has included group sessions at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Gosling Sike site at Houghton, near Carlisle.

Sheila Gregory, Carlisle Mencap’s CEO said: “The sessions involve working on wildlife projects alongside other Trust members and is aimed at restoring mental and physical health in benign surroundings with skilled support staff. As the project progresses our members would become less depenent on the staff team and integrate into the wildlife trust volunteering teams as member without paid support.”

The Safer Together project has seen the Carlisle Mencap team follow up regular phone calls to members or their families by interacting directly with individuals if they feel the frustrations of lockdown are taking their toll. This involves using platforms like Zoom for one-to-one chats or, following strict Government advice, direct visits to clients – anything that involves seeing a familiar face and helping them to try and connect with normality.

The charity also has a library of information and support material available online including videos, easy-to-read leaflets, and social stories with the charity’s staff directing individuals and families to the most relevant information.

Katie Murphy, senior support worker with the Children’s Outreach team at Carlisle Mencap, has been involved with the project since it first started in May. Originally helped by Hannah McNamara from the charity’s Grace Little Centre for children, since the end of August the team has expanded to three with support worker Denise Dewars and advice worker Sue Maguire also making the vital calls and visits to more than 100 households.

Katie said: “Every week we ring through a list of people. We ask people how they are, how they are coping, and if they need extra support from us. If they do then we arrange a visit or an online meeting. We also keep them up to date with information about our centres and our Outreach services because obviously, due to Covid-19, our centres like the Grace Little and California House for adults have had their services reduced due to infection control measures.”

Katie added: “Most are very grateful for these calls and they know we are always here to help,” added Katie.

Mrs Gregory added: ‘Everyone at Carlisle Mencap was delighted by this very generous grant. People with learning disability and/or autism have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic and the regulations that came with it. Many never really came outdoors during the first lockdown as many of their usual activities, like being able to attend a day services, were not always available to them. These restrictions and the fear created by the virus have had detrimental effects on their mental health.

“We fear it will take people a very long time to recover. This is why this grant which takes us into a period of recovery is so very welcome. We are know that being in the outdoors and close to nature is a great healer, so we are delighted to be working with Cumbria Wildlife Trust on this project.”

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Imagine the perfect winter’s night... candles flickering, log fire blazing and a glass of red warming in the hand. The darkness of Scandi-noir drama is on the telly while that home-cooked dinner bubbles away in the oven.

Or you could be sitting with a cup of coffee, favourite book in hand with your woolly jumper draped across your shoulders.

Get the picture? Well to the Danish these are moments of hygge; gentle soothing times which allow you to appreciate the little things in life.

Today we have no choice about hunkering down and staying at home thanks to the restrictions imposed following the second Covid-19 lockdown.

We have learnt a lot from last time but that was in spring and summer when we could get out in the sun. Gardens were tidied and enjoyed, barbecues sizzled away and neglected rooms decorated.

This second lockdown is quite different. Now we have nights getting longer and the days colder. So why not take a leaf from the Scandinavians’ book. Light that candle, check the Netflix schedule or read that long abandoned novel. It’s about taking time to slow down and enjoy your home comforts.

We are in worrying times. Fears about Covid spreading to ourselves and those we love combined with concern for our jobs as the economy comes under greater pressure, are having an impact on our mental health.

Those who live alone including the elderly and vulnerable are at particular risk as winter approaches. Then we have uncertainty over Christmas – will we be able to gather with families or will it be very much a watered-down version of the traditional festivities.

The Danes are said to be among the happiest people in the world. Moments are cherished for what they are. OK we can’t meet up with friends to share these moments, but we can enjoy them with those we live with.

Hygge – pronounced “heur-gha” with a sound a bit like clearing your throat – is apparently that fuzzy warm feeling of taking pleasure from the simplest of activities. It’s a lifestyle choice which has been embraced by the Scandinavians.

Come summer Hygge is that leisurely beer in the garden or an ice cream on the park bench while the kids play on the swings – just living life in the moment.

Let’s all enjoy the coming weeks as much as we can. Drag out that throw, get the fire on and think of better days to come.

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PADDLING, rock-pooling and fishing for crabs became the new norm during our family holiday.

It was like stepping back into childhood; ice-cream, chips on the beach and sandcastle building, made for a general feeling of wellness.

Every two years our three generations pack our bags, pile into overflowing cars and head for the airport for a week in the sun – usually of the Portuguese variety.

Our chief researcher does us proud with spot-on accommodation for our expanding family – latest baby making us a group of six.

Lockdown changed all this. 2020 being the year for our family holiday, we chose a destination in the UK. Ever keen to hunt down the sun we chose the furthest point south in the country – Cornwall.

It’s a helluva long way from Cumbria, particularly with two young children but with an overnight stop it is doable.

It was well worth the drive. Covid restrictions were still in place but rather than make us feel restricted, they made us feel safe – even in that nightmare that is service stations.

While others wrangled with airport queues and the fear of quarantine for a trip abroad, our holiday in the UK gave us the chance - and the time - to explore previously unseen places.

Each time you climbed a hill to be rewarded by a tiny deserted cove with sparkling blue sea, you could believe for just one moment that you were the first person to have walked that stretch of shore.

Long sandy beaches with their rocky coves are a joy to explore particularly for five-year-olds with their inherent sense of adventure. Cornwall’s rugged coastline once provided a haven for pirates a

nd today it is the perfect setting for fertile young imaginations.

The National Maritime Museum in Falmouth continued the adventure theme with its Monsters of the Deep exhibition whetting appetites even further and kept conversations going for days.

By keeping off motorways and sticking to A, B, and even unclassified roads you can believe you are anywhere in the world. Our staycation gave us access to vineyards without crossing the Channel - the Camel Valley in Cornwall is a wonderful example of British winemaking.

We zig-zagged the country taking the chance to visit friends and relatives we hadn't seen since before lockdown. Meals early in the week were subsidised by the Government’s half-price deal making eating out for six more financially manageable.

We visited towns and cities previously just a name on a motorway signpost. Giggled over rude place names. The River Piddle, Upton Snodsbury with neighbouring North Piddle and Crapstone are a few which come to mind.

Silly songs were made up, children were “rescued” from rogue waves, games were played, and stories read. It wasn’t all idyllic. Arguments ensued about where to go, what to eat and whose turn it was to change that dirty nappy.

This staycation lark may become a habit; pass me the UK atlas someone.

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