Lockdown showed us how lonely life can be when the people and places we love are taken away. But, what if life was already lonely before the isolation of the pandemic? Sadly, that’s the case for thousands of disabled people in the UK. A study by Sense, before the pandemic, revealed that one in two disabled people (53%) feel lonely every day, rising to 77% for young disabled people. And lockdown has only made things worse.
With the help of a grant from the Government’s Loneliness Fund, we set up Sense Connect to offer online sessions and activities geared towards people with complex disabilities and communication needs. That could be anything from a group arts & crafts sessions for young people, seated Yoga for older people, or a weekly catch up with a volunteer through our Virtual Buddying project.
At Sense we specialise in supporting people with complex disabilities, who perhaps other organisations aren’t able to support. One of the people on the Virtual Buddying programme, Chloe, communicates using basic Makaton, noises, gesture, and in particular facial expressions – she loves making faces and seeing other people’s facial expressions.
Over lockdown, Chloe was no longer able to attend college or access her usual short breaks, leaving Chloe particularly isolated from the people who know her well and have the specialist skills to be able to connect with her. We matched Chloe up with Alanna who has been able to adapt her British Sign Language skills to be able to communicate with Chloe and over the past few months they have developed a real connection. Chloe’s mum has told us how much Chloe loves spending time with Alanna and looks forward to their weekly sessions.
Together they have explored all of Chloe’s interests, joining in on Sense’s drumming to music sessions, singing and signing lots of songs together and baking and decorating ginger bread people. Chloe still hasn’t been able to return to college, and it’s been over 200 days since she has been able to access her usual service. Being part of Virtual Buddies has had a real impact on Chloe during this lonely time, with mum telling us Chloe and Alanna’s session are ‘helping to stop the isolation and fill a void of “what do we do this morning?”. When you know something is happening, it really helps.’
Sense Connect continues to support people across the country to access make connections with people, develop friendships and to access activities from Tai Chi classes through to sensory sound baths in one-to-one or group sessions. The Government’s Loneliness Fund has enabled Sense to recruit and organise volunteers and to provide the resources needed so that nobody, no matter their disabilities, is left out of life.
Find out more about Sense Connect here