Community connections and personal development
As well as the digital training to allow people to get online and use and enjoy the internet safely, participants worked alongside their Community Navigator to identify their specific areas of interest and to help to develop upon that in a remote capacity given the Covid pandemic.
This was the more unquantifiable part of the programme as it built the ability to connect with other people and groups, explore areas of interest and develop new skills, all of which contribute to lessening isolation and improve mental and physical wellbeing.
It is difficult to quantify the amount of time that our Community Navigators provided to participants, as additional support was tailored to every individual’s needs. We can modestly estimate it at more than 12,000 hours of one-to-one personal support.
Community Navigator Clare Bennett meets with volunteers outside as lockdown restrictions start to ease.
Areas of interest, as it turns out, were varied and many – some participants have since become involved in disability advocacy, for others it was improving on literacy or spelling, on-line banking and shopping, using Zoom for things like GP appointments, or simply to talk to family and friends.
We also delivered a series of sessions with external providers – Disability Sport, Libraries NI, the Consumer Council and Ulster Bank to name a few, plus the National Advocacy Service and Education and Training Board which manages continuing education schools and colleges across the Republic.
These sessions were widely praised by participants with the advice on online scams and safe shopping and how to access libraries and other services particularly welcomed.
The sessions proved so popular, that in one case they were developed further into a six-week programme specifically catering for people living with arthritis and offering techniques on general pain management. Demand was such that Versus Arthritis delivered this course twice.
There were also mental health and wellbeing sessions, creative writing and photography courses. The writing and photography courses uncovered hidden talent and allowed many people to express themselves as never before, as can be seen from the example of participant Lynda’s poem included in this report.
Photo exhibition – Closing Event
These courses were not only about beautiful prose and images but about recording the all-important life experiences that will read as familiar to many disabled people and that are seldom taken note of by society.
As an example of the continuing effect of ONSIDE, one volunteer is now peer-leading a creative writing group that continues to meet online and has guest speakers of areas of interest at its sessions. Peer-led men’s and women’s groups also continue to meet weekly.
ONSIDE Women’s Group
ONSIDE Men’s Group
Photo by Desmond
Photo by Nigel
ONSIDE also engaged in 3 co-production exercises. Our Autism Group formed to look at the NI Autism Strategy, they have now joined with an external group Orchardville to continue this work and focus on service delivery for people with autism, notably those who are transitioning from child to adult services and can fall between the gaps. Another group worked with Property Pal to identify the key information that is relevant from a disabled person’s perspective in seeking a home to buy or rent.
Our third group is still active. As mentioned previously, because of safeguarding, ONSIDE was restricted to over-16s. This never sat well with us as the experience of social barriers can be learned at a young age. The voice of children and young people is a valid one that deserves to be heard and we are continuing to work alongside two groups of children and young people around the concept of inclusive play.
Inclusive play co-production
Inclusive play co-production
The feedback from our participants has been consistently and overwhelmingly positive as evidenced by the testimonies of many of our participants. One constant was that people enjoyed the social element of the project – the chance to meet people with similar but not the same life experiences – friendships have been formed that will keep going post-ONSIDE.