Newly-formed virtual hubs are helping adults with learning disabilities and autism combat isolation during lockdown by supporting them to connect with their friends online.
Staff working for the council’s Active Lives Service, which provides tailored activities and support for people with disabilities, have been facilitating online video sessions for people who would usually meet at their hub centres around the borough including the Cherry Hub in St James’ Road. When open, these hubs offer a range of facilities and activities, including dance classes, cookery and a sensory rooms.
The Friends Connect social groups, which run for an hour a day Monday to Friday, were set up after several service users told Active Lives staff they were missing the friends they had made at the borough’s hubs. To help them reconnect, the staff have used Microsoft Teams to create virtual hubs where they facilitate group video chats, connect smaller friendship groups and individual friends online to prevent feelings of isolation and a decline in emotional wellbeing and mental health.
As well as the Friends Connect sessions, Active Lives staff have been using the platform to involve hub users in online keep fit classes, quizzes and virtual discussion groups about the current situation caused by Covid-19, giving advice and useful tips on what people can do to maintain their wellbeing.
Richard St John-Roberts, the carer of two clients using the virtual hub, said: “Errol and David are enjoying being able to see and talk to their friends on Microsoft Teams. Being able to participate in an exercise workout with Heidi [an Active Lives team member] is an added bonus and we all feel better afterwards. Both definitely give it the thumbs up.”
In addition to the group sessions, Active Lives staff are using the virtual hubs to continue their outreach work staying in touch with individual club regulars, with the Whitehorse and Beulah hubs each holding sessions with over 20 people a week.
Councillor Jane Avis, cabinet member for families, health and social care
“Covid-19 has put us all in a very challenging environment, and for adults with learning disabilities or autism the current situation and change to routine can be even more stressful and difficult to cope with.
“The initiative demonstrated by our fantastic Active Lives staff shows how much they care for their service users. I’m delighted they’ve been able to overcome the challenge of hubs being closed and are able to continue to providing the tailored support and activities many of their hub users enjoy and rely on.”