Let's talk about loneliness
Anyone can feel lonely at any time in their life, but some of us are more likely to experience isolation than others. A survey carried out by learning disability charity Hft in 2021 found that 36% of people with a learning disability feel lonely nearly always or all the time. The results also showed that a third don't feel part of their local community, and 66% would like more support to do social activities and make friends.
“Loneliness affects me massively," says Tom, 38. He lives in a shared house with two other people, but their needs are quite different to his. "There’s no one in my house that I can relate to. I think they should put people with a similar level of ability together."
Nathan, 31, also struggles with his living situation. "There are other residents where I live but my flat isn’t connected to the main part of the building, so I feel like I’m forgotten about," he says. “It’s quite lonely here – there’s hardly anyone to talk to. I’ve got a cat to keep me company, and it’s something to come back to when I get home."
Restricted independence and a lack of equal opportunities are two of the biggest challenges they face that impact their social lives. “Not having transport to get out and do things isolates you," says Nathan. "You have to ask other people for help – and that’s if you’ve got anyone to ask."
"I constantly feel like I’m trying to prove myself and not getting anywhere," adds Tom. "People will say it’s too dangerous for you to do things because you’ve got a learning disability. But before the lockdowns happened, I would go to the comedy club and to nightclubs. I'd like us to have more freedom to go out and about by ourselves and meet people."
Creating opportunities and connections
Brandon's vision for the future is a world where people of different abilities truly belong. Over the next five years, we'll be implementing our ambitious new strategy – Plan B – to turn this vision into a reality for people like Tom and Nathan. Our goals include equipping people to live their lives beyond paid services and providing opportunities for them to belong in and contribute to an inclusive society.
“This year, we're launching a model of support called 'active support'," explains Tanya, Brandon's Chief Operating and Compliance Officer. "It's all about enabling people to develop life skills that will help them feel like they can integrate into the community in a more natural way. For example, someone might be interested in cooking. So they learn how to cook something at home, with their support worker enabling them to understand each step and task. Once they’ve started to gain those skills, and hopefully confidence as well, they could go and join a local bakery class or invite someone round and cook for them."
“We're also planning to recruit more volunteers and match them with people’s aspirations," adds Tracy, our Director of Operations, Business and Enterprise. "Usually, the easiest way to form connections is through a shared interest. Volunteers want to be there because they enjoy the company or the same activity."
Another way we're going to bring people together is by establishing Community Hubs that everyone in the local area can access and enjoy. These will be a combination of offices, social enterprises and shared spaces providing activities and employment. "It's about breaking down all barriers and demonstrating that people with a learning disability have skills and qualities that contribute to and bring alive a community," says Tanya. "For so long, they've felt like they're seen as recipients rather than contributors – but they've got loads to offer and want to give back to the community."
Find out more about Plan B.