Learning Disability Week: Friendship

15 June 2020

This week, 15 – 21 June is Learning Disability Week. The theme of the week is the importance of friendships during lockdown. We caught up with James who leads our work at our Community Hub in Stroud, Gloucestershire to talk about friendships.

James has been working with Guideposts since January, “It’s been pretty much dead on six months now,” he said. He is well experienced, having worked in the care sector for ten years in both residential and supported living settings and now at our Hub which supports adults with learning disabilities.

Why is friendship an important topic for this year’s Learning Disability Week?

“I’ve worked a long time in care and unfortunately I’ve seen very few real genuine friendships between people with learning disabilities.

“People with learning disabilities are unfortunately rarely given the opportunity to build their own relationships. There’s so much for care staff to worry about like cooking, cleaning and paper work – they are taking care of needs and forget it is important.”

Why is the Community Hub in Stroud different then?

“The Hub really is a community. People really truly enjoy each other’s company and miss those who aren’t there.

“We have the luxury to not worry as much on that and can focus on an activity and the people doing the activity. We encourage friendships but it happens naturally. People who come enjoy doing the activities and because they are having fun they make those relationships.

“Our art group gives people chance to explore their creativity – the focus is arts and crafts but the chance to socialise and grow friendships is the real reason why people go. Arts and crafts is an excuse for people to turn up. They all get on well and end up making good friends which is amazing.

“Relationships are a big focus for me. I’ve always believed that the activity doesn’t really matter – spending meaningful time with people is the important thing. Painting an amazing painting is great but the moments of connection in between – that’s the important part.

“We can’t meet face to face right now and on my phone calls they always say, ‘How is such and such doing?’ and ‘I miss my friends’.”

“Painting an amazing painting is great but the moments of connection in between – that’s the important part.”

So why do some people struggle to make friends?

“For people with a learning disability, friendships are unfortunately something they can struggle to form. It can take a lot of work for people to build friendships and maintain them. They need support to remind them to stay in touch – not being able to see friends is hard for them, not having the tech to be able to get in touch with each other makes it harder – staying in touch is so important.

“Having the right technology can make a huge difference to keeping in touch – whether by Zoom or phone calls.”

How can we be a friend to someone with a learning disability?

“When on bus, for example you will see a person with a learning disability trying to talk to someone and I find it sad because I have seen these sessions where trainers come in and say to people with a learning disability, ‘Just talk to people on bus, or when you’re out having a coffee. Go and talk to them, introduce yourself and have a conversation’. But too often we just ignore them and walk away.

“So just make the effort – if you only have two minutes to have a chat, do. Ask about what they are up to – it makes a massive difference for some people.”