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Christmas is the most sensory time of the year

Marshfields Christmas Dinner

Many of the people with learning disabilities who we support here at Marshfields cannot read or write. They measure the passing of time by the changing seasons and celebrations and festivals - birthdays, Easter, Bonfire Night, Halloween and, of course, Christmas.

Christmas is a really important time here at Marshfields. Come the middle of November, we can feel the tension rising and the excitement growing.

For those people who cannot speak, emotions and senses play a huge part in this anticipation. Christmas is the most sensory time of year – the weather is getting colder, leaves have fallen and perfect for stamping through, there are wonderful scents and tastes of cinnamon, oranges, cloves, and freshly cooked mince pies.

We start preparing well before the big day as we sell our craft and food items in our shop and at events leading up to 25 December.

Everyone is involved – making little felted elves, warming soup, picking winter foliage for handmade wreaths, drying oranges, making cards and wrapping paper.

Our Christmas dinner is the highlight of the season. We meet at our local bowling centre on the Monday before Christmas and all our staff and volunteers take part along with the people with learning disabilities who we support. We go bowling and afterwards enjoy a three-course Christmas dinner, but Christmas jumpers and hats are optional.

As we work across several sites, it's the only time of year when we can all get together at the same time and for the people we support, a rare chance to socialise with old friends, catching up and reminiscing. Some of our people have known each other since school; now in their 50s and 60s they may not get the opportunity to meet up en masse for another year.

It's also a time when we reflect on the year that's passed, our friends and family, and what gives our lives meaning. We work in a small rural community in north Herefordshire and many of the people we support and our staff team have been with us for many years. We've lost friends in the last year, a much loved member of staff, and a valued member of our community, both to cancer at too young an age. We've had to come to terms with the fact that this will be the first Christmas without them. When we have our Christmas lunch together they will be missing, and missed. As the people we support grow older we're helping many of them come to terms with their parents also growing older and caring becoming more difficult. And in a climate of uncertainty with social care funding at crisis point our people and their families can be forgotten.

So we try to make this time of year special and a time of joy, celebrating with all our senses, acknowledging special friendships both past and present, and anticipating making new plans and gaining new experiences in the coming new year.

Marshfields is Brandon Trust's day opportunity in Leominster, north Herefordshire. We run four projects where people with learning disabilities can work in social enterprises, upcycling and selling wooden furniture, learning horticultural skills and craft skills, improving daily living skills, and taking part in courses and activities to help them grow, develop, and achieve their full potential.

Catherine Baker
Inclusion Coordinator