Bury residents with learning disabilities have formed a friendship group which is enabling them to enjoy trips out and holidays with the support of local social care provider Persona.
Customers of Persona’s Supported Living Team created the friendship group in order to get more from their personalised care and support services.
In its first 12 months the group has enjoyed trips to Blackpool, the Lake District, Chester Zoo, London, and the set of TV soap Emmerdale. They’ve also organised walks in the park, a Christmas party, attended music concerts and been to the panto.
And now a group of members are planning to go on a cruise to Spain together, while others are looking forward to a rail trip to the Scottish Highlands.
Persona customers with learning disabilities each receive individual packages of support depending on their needs. All live in their own homes, with some customers requiring just a few hours a week support to help them manage day to day living, while others have dedicated 24-7 support in place.
Ann Thompson, Supported Living Team Manager at Persona explains: “A number of our customers realised they could do more if they shared their hours with each other. So instead of one person having a 24-7 support worker to themselves they could share this with someone else and enjoy a trip out together and get more hours between them.
“That’s how it started, with little pockets of sharing and it just mushroomed from there. Before long it turned into a fully fledged group and we quickly realised its potential.”
Members of the Friendship Group keep in touch via a dedicated Facebook group and meet every few months to plan their trips and holidays.
Ann adds: “Facebook was the obvious way for people to keep in touch and it’s made it easier for people to plan and organise things. But we also send a newsletter out so those who don’t use Facebook can keep up to date with what’s happening.
“For the people in the group it’s been transformative. It’s widened people’s opportunities to socialise, helped build their confidence and enjoy experiences which just wouldn’t have been possible before. The group run and organise things themselves – coming up with the ideas for things they want to do. We’re just there to support them, with a Persona Supported Living team member always there on each trip to provide the help that’s needed.”
Persona customer Paul Hather said: “I have three hours of support three times a week from Persona to help me with things like managing my tenancy. The Friendship Group means I can share hours with someone else so I can do more things like enjoy day trips. I’ve been to London for the first time and on days out to the Lake District and to Chester Zoo.
“It was my 50th birthday recently and I’d planned to just go for a few drinks with some friends. But because of all the new friends I had made through the Friendship Group I organised a big party which lots of them came to.”
“Until now though, I’ve never really felt able to go away for an overnight stay. But thanks to the group I’m now going to Blackpool for a holiday in March. I just wouldn’t have done that without being in the group. I’m really looking forward to it.”
Support worker Stella Parker said: “Paul’s confidence has grown so much since being in the group. We’ve supported him to do lots of things over the years like go swimming and being a volunteer. But he’d never felt able to go on a holiday where he could stay away from home overnight. Now, because he’s got to know so many people through the group, he feels comfortable doing that.
“Behind the scenes it takes a bit of organisation to make sure we calculate people’s hours so we can cover what people want to do. We also need to make sure the right team member is going for each trip and that issues such as safeguarding are fully covered. It works because we’ve built a lot of flexibility into it – so if someone like Paul didn’t need to use any of his regular support hours one week he could save them up and use them towards a trip.”
Kat Sowden, Persona Managing Director said: “We’ve always supported people individually to enjoy new experiences and to live life to the full. But that was usually on a one on one basis with one support worker and one customer.
“Now with the Friendship Group, our customers can enjoy these experiences as part of a group. And for some people who only have a few hours of support each week, because they are sharing the support worker with someone else, they can do things which just wouldn’t have been possible before.
“Yet for us as a company this has been possible without having to find any additional resource. It really has been a win-win for everyone and show’s what’s possible if we think of innovative ways to deliver services.”