HEART of England Mencap is at the centre of a major new national project with an ambitious vision; to make the UK the best place for people with a learning disability to live a happy, healthy life.
The charity, based in Stratford-upon-Avon and supporting people across south Warwickshire and North Worcestershire, is one of two organisations selected by the Royal Mencap Society (RMS) to help drive change through its ‘Beacon’ project.
The aim is to create a more inclusive society for people with learning disabilities to live in, empowering people with learning disabilities to drive the change needed and play a meaningful part in their community.
People with a learning disability are among the most stigmatised, disadvantaged and excluded in society. The barriers they face to living fulfilled lives are played out at every level, from national policies to individual perceptions. This impacts every aspect of their lives:
- Economic: Almost a third of households that include a disabled person live in poverty compared to 18% of the general population
- Social: 85% of disabled adults, aged 18-34 feel lonely
- Physical: Only 43% of PWLD do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, compared to 67.4% of people with no disability
- Psychological: 40% of PWLD have suffered with mental health problems – twice as many as in the wider population
COVID-19 has further exacerbated these inequalities, with services reduced, paused or even withdrawn in some areas.
RMS has secured funding to test its new ‘Beacon’ – a community-led approach over the next three years. With the support of the Pears Foundation, Heart of England Mencap has been recruited to play a major role as one of two network partners recruited to join the programme.
Work is already underway. As a project partner, Heart of England Mencap has begun by establishing a focus group, led by the people with learning disabilities which it supports, and facilitated by staff.
By creating an easy-read questionnaire, the focus group is gathering feedback from local people with learning disabilities, asking for their input on how services can be improved.
The plan is for new activities and community involvement to then be made possible – not just for the people already supported by Heart of England Mencap, but for the wider learning disability community too.
Preliminary research carried out by the charity pointed to a need for more evening and weekend activities, more exercise-based activities and more book clubs that help people to understand scenarios and stories using pictures rather than words.
Helena Wallis, Chief Executive of Heart of England Mencap, said:
“We’re really excited to be part of the Beacon project and to have the opportunity to empower people with learning disabilities to play a meaningful role in their communities.
“It’s about sharing our learning and insight with RMS and the wider network too, so that we can really start to drive change on a national level, in a society where people with learning disabilities are still disadvantaged more than anyone else.”
Kate Buttrick, the Programme Coordinator for Heart of England Mencap, added:
“Our vision is that our focus group will grow in numbers across our services and be accessible to the local community as well.
“The type of activities and opportunities it will help us to enable will of course be dependent on the feedback we gather, but as an example, we’ve just increased the number of accessible bikes we have and will soon be launching an inclusive cycling programme open to anybody locally. That’s a great example of the sort of opportunity we’re told is needed, and we want to answer.”