It was with horror that I read yesterday that a beloved charity I have had the pleasure of working for, is at risk of closure. Friends Action North East (FANE) is a charity that work with adults with learning disabilities and autism to overcome social isolation. They work with individuals to identify barriers which prevent them from having ordinary social networks and explore ways to overcome them via their services. This includes their friendship mentoring programme, social groups, telephone befriending and their ‘Friendkit’ and digital inclusion workshops. The charity has also recruited and trained over 350 local volunteers and university student placements.
Building up social awareness and communication
I chose to work with them because these kinds of services are rarely offered by the NHS or even other learning disability/autism charities. It was a chance to get in and work with individuals to make a real difference to their lives. From supporting them to understand body language to how to strike up a conversation, everything is explored in detail to build up social awareness and communication.
My favourite job for them was going around well-known sites around the North East and training the staff on autism and learning disability awareness. The real strength in this training is that it facilitated team members with learning disabilities and autism themselves to jointly deliver these workshops. This is not often the case even though they are, of course, the ones best placed to train others on these matters. People took on board the advice they were giving much more because it was spoken from the heart. This allowed venues which included supermarkets, museums, cinemas and theatres to adapt their environments to make them more accessible for those with autism and learning disabilities.
“Loneliness and social isolation affect millions of people and people with learning disabilities and autism are often most at risk of suffering the effects of this, including poor physical and mental health, greater risk of abuse, and exclusion from community activities”.
“There is an identified link between loneliness, social isolation and poor mental/physical health.”
Some examples of this would include high blood pressure, heart disease, stroke, obesity, weakened immune system, anxiety, depression and cognitive decline.
I have seen first hand how Friends Action North East has totally transformed people’s lives. Individuals told me how they were finally able to go out and enjoy socialising and make friends thanks to the skills they learned there. The improvement to their quality of life often being quite dramatic. On their website www.friendsaction.co.uk you can find lots of examples of this, such as:-
“I can’t begin to say how much FANE has changed my sister’s life for the better. She is a totally different person, it is the most amazing group and they help her, and my family in so many ways. I can’t begin to imagine how we would manage without all the wonderful work and support and friendship they provide. My sister’s life is richer in so many ways, they allow her to flourish, and gain independence to enjoy life . I find it difficult to express exactly how life changing , and how lucky we feel that she has FANE, simple things we take for granted are now accessible to her, we can never thank them enough. “
“My son has made friends with several people which has boosted his self esteem, he has become more aware of others with special needs and is able to discuss his anxieties easily.”
“FANE has taught me how to stay safe and communicate with people more comfortably, I have more of an understanding of expressions.
The charity is based at Ouseburn Farm which was itself at risk of closure a few years ago due to a lack of funding but was saved after running a crowdfunder.
Friends Action North East have just started their own crowdfunder to try to save the charity which states that “this project will only be funded if at least £30,000 is pledged by 15 August”.
Time is therefore very short. Most of us had a taste of what it was like to feel some kind of social isolation during the Covid-19 lockdowns and will be able to, therefore, empathise with how important this project is. Please contribute what you are able to save this most unique and essential local service following this link to their crowdfunder.