GOLD (Getting on with Learning Disabilities) is a four year Lottery funded project managed by local charity East Kent Mencap, which provides free support and information for people with learning difficulties in Thanet.
The concept of GOLD came out of a small project providing one-to-one support to 19 tenants of East Kent Mencap to become more independent and access a greater number of services and activities in the community. We noticed originally that tenants we supported would move on to living in the community and often had their care packages cut or significantly reduced. Whilst they were able to manage day-to-day they struggled with unexpected issues such as forms about benefits, debt, housing related issues, understanding information and where to go for help. They often had very limited social networks and found themselves socially isolated and lacking the self-confidence to access mainstream services. The project demonstrated that giving people with a learning disability specialist support could have a significant impact on their level of independence, reducing their social isolation, and improving their health and wellbeing (ref 1).
Whilst researching the demand for such a service across Thanet we spoke to social services, adult education, housing associations, health workers and other support services, all of whom had encountered clients whom they thought would benefit from this kind of support and couldn’t access it elsewhere.
With funding confirmed in September 2015, the project started delivery in January 2016. The team were excited by the chance to listen to people with a learning disability about what was important to them and support them to make changes or take action. Easy read publicity materials were produced to promote the project. A membership form and card, assessment form and person-centred action plan documents were created. Existing community opportunities were mapped and contacts developed.
GOLD doesn’t provide traditional support but works with individuals around the problems they are worried about through supporting them to identify the issue, looking at what solutions are available and where they can access that support. Often there are services that can support but people don’t know what they are or how to access them. Some people have tried to access them in the past but have not been able to make themselves understood or understood the information they have been give. By supporting people to access Job Centre Plus, Citizens Advice, Housing services, police etc people are more confident to use them independently the next time and share that information with friends who may find themselves in similar positions.
In the first 12 months, the project worked with 52 individuals, assessing their need and providing individual support and action plans. A number of groups were established. A weekly “Getting on Group” (GOG) focused on the social needs of people and provided more general information which emerged such as community safety, first aid, and domestic violence, and acted as a steering group for the project.
Members initiated ‘Bring and Shares’ events where they invited representatives from key services together with people who have a learning disability in an informal environment to talk about issues. This not only supports people with a learning disability to feel more comfortable to access services but enables the staff at those services to understand the issues they experience.
Specific groups developed, tailored to interests expressed by members of GOG include a Speaking Up Group, Campaign Group, Women’s Group, Cinema Club, and Social/Community Group. Through these sessions people gain social skills and build friendships thus reducing isolation through engaging with people in their community and taking part in activities.
The majority of people accessing the project have multiple problems. Most live alone or with an elderly parent. Once the presenting issue has been explored via individual assessment, additional issues are revealed, leading to complex support being needed which can result in a dramatic impact on people’s lives.
In the second year of the project, members of GOLD grew in confidence and began to set the agenda. The Women’s Group worked with Oasis domestic abuse charity in Thanet to produce an easy read leaflet about domestic violence and where to get support.
In October 2017, the Project moved into new high street fronting premises. Members were involved in the process, including a launch event in January 2018 which attracted over 80 visitors. The shopfront will run weekly drop ins where we plan to further develop our relationship with services.
Current members are enthusiastic advocates for GOLD with many referrals coming via word of mouth. However, although there was an initial enthusiastic response from professionals, the project has received few referrals from this route. This is despite a marketing campaign using social media, advertising and direct mail. The project has a dedicated 0845 number, staff regularly attend networking events, and send updates to remind services and organisations how they can help. We even made a short video to report on our successes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wxIZnrAN2vE&t=15s
With statutory services being increasingly stretched, more people are ‘falling through the cracks’. We recognise that professionals are overwhelmed with the demands of their work and don’t always have the time, or enough head space, to suggest other options. We also know that a timely intervention from GOLD can reduce demand on health and social care though supporting people to build on self-confidence and reduce social isolation. The impact of GOLD demonstrates its value with the people who access it telling us it has been ‘life changing’. Our newest member, Shirley, said at the launch of the high street premises, ’I used to be so lonely. Now I have friends and enjoy myself’. As social prescribing and community referral (ref 2) continues to grow GOLD is excited to be part of its success.
More details about the project can be found on our website: www.eastkentmencap.co.uk/GOLD.
1.Holt-Lunstad J. et al., Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review. PLoS Review. 2010
- Kings Fund. What is social prescribing. Feb 2017