Mencap NI has called on the Government and Local Councils to improve social inclusion and access to community activities for older people with a learning disability, especially those with complex needs.
The learning disability charity is launching a report at Parliament Buildings in Belfast, to mark the end of their ‘Link Me’ project, set up to tackle social isolation in older people with a learning disability.
The Link Me Project Report outlines the achievements and learning of the project and makes recommendation for older people with a learning disability to be a priority group in promoting social inclusion and community access. The charity wants local councils and community agencies to actively plan and develop activities and information that will include older people with a learning disability.
Margaret Kelly, Director of Mencap NI said: “Older people with a learning disability experience many health and social inequalities which make it particularly difficult for them to participate in community life. Reduced social networks put them at greater risk of social isolation, exclusion, depression and ill-health. The Link Me project sought to address this through a programme of tailored support which promoted their inclusion in local activities.”
Michael, from Omagh has a learning disability and was supported by the Link Me Project, he said: “When I started with the Link Me project I didn’t really know what to expect as I was quite independent, but I found it hard to find things I was interested in."
"I told the Mencap staff about my love of country music and about all the instruments I could play such as the Piano, Guitar, accordion and the harmonica. Link Me volunteers helped me to go along to Music Matters, a music group where I met many old friends."
The Link Me project was developed to address the issue of isolation and loneliness amongst adults over 55 with a learning disability by supporting them to participate in local community activities. The Link Me project supported 81 people in Carrickfergus, Larne, Newtownabbey, Omagh, Strabane and Kesh areas and was set up to run for four years with funding from the Big Lottery Fund and in partnership with Volunteer Now. People supported by the Link Me project improved in confidence, felt less lonely and over half of participants now access community activities independently.
The Link Me project worked locally with Carrickfergus Senior Gateway Club, Omagh Gateway Club and trained volunteers to support people to attend their chosen social or recreational activities. People took part in exercise groups, dancing classes, knit and natter, arts and crafts, book groups, playing pool or a visit to the local pub or cinema.
Sandra Adair, Director of Operations at Volunteer Now, said: “Volunteer Now has been delighted to be a partner in the Link Me project, as the role of volunteers was central to the work of the project in supporting older people in the community."
"The Link Me model will provide useful learning for wider practice, especially for volunteer-led work in the community with adults who have a learning disability. It will also help us develop better ways to work with and support people with complex needs."
Link Me activities were individually tailored to meet the needs and interests of the people on the project, who set personal goals to be more confident, make new friends, get out and about more, feel healthier and not to feel so lonely. The Link Me project was developed to address the complex and ingrained issue of isolation and loneliness amongst adults aged 55 and over with a learning disability supporting them to participate in local activities, the project aimed to ensure that older people were enabled and empowered to lead fuller, connected lives as valued members of their local community.
Marie McGale, Mencap NI Community Engagement Manager said: “For many older people, Link Me simply marks the beginning of a journey and not the end. Link Me has proven that for all older people with a learning disability active engagement has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing."
"Making new friends has been the main benefit for most people on the project. We want to develop a better understanding in the wider community about people with a learning disability, that they are individuals who should be respected equally and not just defined by their disability."