Enjoying the wild side: Carlisle Mencap members have been helping out at Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Go


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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