Hft learning disability hubs image

People with learning disabilities in Cheshire and Merseyside are able to enjoy the company of their loved ones safely, thanks to new ‘interaction hubs’ that allow families to spend time together in line with government restrictions.

Run by national charity Hft, the 11 hubs are located at learning disability services in Neston, Willaston and Ellesmere Port. The supported living services, which support over 60 people with learning disabilities locally, have been welcoming family and friends to spend time with supported people in newly made, specially designed wooden gazebos, which are being used in line with government guidance.

Inspiration for the project came from Hft’s regional manager, Laura Barron, who was keen to find a way for people to safely stay in contact with their loved ones.

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After coming up with the innovative idea to create outdoor interaction areas, building work began in November. The timber hubs, which came into use earlier in the year, contain lights, heating and benches, allowing people to shelter from the weather, and are complete with markings to help with social distancing.

Operating using a booking system, the hubs have already proven popular with people who have previously suffered from low moods when poor weather means family visits have been cancelled. Government guidance permitting, visits can now go ahead in all weather, with the added bonus of encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.

The ambitious project was made possible thanks to donations from the Cheshire Community Foundation, the Collinge family, Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme and the charity’s own Pandemic Appeal, as well as legacy donations left by a person supported by the charity who passed away and the family member of someone supported by Hft. Local building firm Garden Barber also lent a hand by completing the work on a reduced budget, donating materials and even arranging a ribbon cutting to officially open the first hub.

Laura said: “Over the past year, people we support have faced huge changes to their daily routines and support networks. While many of them have been supported to engage with their family and friends using technology, people were still missing face to face contact. Family and friends are there for life, and maintaining these relationships is essential to everyone’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Thanks to this project, people have been able to enjoy some quality time with their families. We’ve been absolutely blown away by the response to this project, which has highlighted the generosity and community spirit that has been such an important force during these difficult times. We couldn’t be happier with the interaction hubs and are so looking forward to seeing more smiles on people’s faces as they enjoy a get together with their loved ones.”

Mrs Marsh’s daughter is supported at a local Hft service, and the family have been enjoying using the interaction hubs to spend time together.

She commented: “We are very grateful that the hubs have been built. They enabled us to help our daughter enjoy her birthday and put a smile on her face. Prior to having them we used to only get to see our daughter on days where the weather was dry but now we have the hub we can see her whenever we want to see her, or whenever she’s having a bad day and needs us.”

Hft is a national charity supporting more than 2,500 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible.

Recently, the charity’s CEO Kirsty Matthews responded to the Queen’s Speech 2021 alongside other leading health and social care organisations like ADASS, Age UK and The Health Foundation.

She said that while the pledge outlined in the speech to bring forward measures to reform social care was a positive move, there was a “stark absence” of concrete legislation regarding reform and a long-term funding settlement for the sector.

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