HEART of England Mencap is at the centre of a major new national project
The Stratford-based charity is part of the Royal Mencap Society’s (RMS) ‘Beacon’ project which aims to create a more inclusive society for people with learning disabilities (PWLD) to live in – empowering them to play a meaningful part in their community.
According to Mencap, those with a learning disability are among the most stigmatised, disadvantaged and excluded in society. The barriers they face to living fulfilled lives are played out at every level, from national policies to individual perceptions.
This impacts every aspect of their lives including economically – almost a third of households that include a disabled person live in poverty – while 85 per cent of disabled adults feel lonely and, physically, less than half of PWLD do at least 150 minutes of exercise a week while 40 per cent have suffered with mental health – twice as many as in the wider population.
Covid-19 has exacerbated these inequalities – with services reduced, paused or even withdrawn in some areas.
RMS has secured funding to test its new ‘Beacon’ – a community-led approach – over the next three years.
And, with the support of the Pears Foundation, Mencap has been recruited to play a major role as one of two network partners involved in the programme.
And work is already underway.
Mencap has begun by establishing a focus group, led by the people it supports, and facilitated by staff.
By creating an easy-read questionnaire, the focus group is gathering feedback from local PWLD, asking for their input on how services can be improved.
The plan is for new activities and community involvement to be made possible – for those already supported by the charity and the wider learning disability community.
So far, research has pointed to a need for more evening and weekend activities, more exercise-based activities and book clubs to help people understand scenarios and stories using pictures rather than words.
Mencap chief executive Helena Wallis said: “We’re really excited to be part of the Beacon project and to have the opportunity to empower people with learning disabilities to play a meaningful role in their communities.
“And it’s about sharing our learning and insight with RMS and the wider network too, so that we can really start to drive change on a national level, in a society where people with learning disabilities are still disadvantaged more than anyone else.”
Actions already taken include an increase in the number of accessible bikes the charity has available and plans for an inclusive cycling programme open to anybody locally.