Local People project members in Brighton connect at an online event

The Local People project in Brighton has created a shared vision, supporting disabled people and unpaid carers to identify barriers and bring about change to increase community equity, therefore improving lives, health and wellbeing.

Supported by Scope, project members have developed shared priorities that include raising awareness and acceptance of disability in all forms and the needs of unpaid carers, increasing physical and environmental access, including making public transport more accessible, reducing isolation and increasing access to activities.

Highlights from the last six months have included partnership work to address access barriers, including enabling accessible community activities across the city, supporting the Resource Centre with access guidance and portable ramps for local groups, and planning projects to increase dropped kerbs and Changing Places facilities. They have also been working with Speak Out to launch their “Thumbs Up To Good Health” campaign with the local CCGs, and have a new opportunity to influence an innovative Restorative Justice pilot, to include disability hate crime.

When the government suddenly locked down the country amidst the pandemic, Community Engagement Officer Harriet Cavanagh, was concerned the project would lose momentum.

She explained, “We had built really good progress within the project and I was worried that we couldn’t all meet in the community anymore. We are having to relearn how to communicate and make decisions online, which is new for a lot of us.

“We started hosting virtual happy hours every Friday to stay connected. We have now held seven. It has been a mix of social connecting and planning community action.

“We spoke about doing food relief as a priority, then found out that the Brighton & Hove Food Partnership are coordinating the local food crisis relief work. We decided to approach them to offer resources to amplify their help to the wider community but also have access conversations about how their processes would work for disabled people.

“1.5m people classed as the most medically vulnerable are getting support from the government, but there are 14m people in the UK who are disabled so millions aren’t entitled to support when they need it the most. It felt really important to us to make sure the Food Partnership could help and meet the needs of those falling through the gaps.”

Members of the Local People project in Brighton and the project in Hove voted to provide a joint grant of £1,750 to the Food Partnership.

Harriet added: “It was great to see collective control and decision making, just in a different format. It made members feel valued within the community, especially having achieved something so practical less than a fortnight into the lockdown.”

Project Board member Ludo said : “After getting used to doing things differently we have already had Project Board votes and meetings, where we came to the joint decision to fund local disability projects that can have many practical benefits at this particular time, including allocating funding to a local food project that ensures that those most in need are able to access daily meals throughout this crisis.”

Another Project Board member Nikolaia added: “It’s so vital for so many of us to know we are continuing the important work of fighting disability inequality throughout lockdown. Pandemics heighten all forms of inequality and disability is not immune to this. Continuing to support each other and the wider disabled community gives us back a sense of control and support, that otherwise feel like they have been removed during this difficult time.”

Ludo added: “It’s been incredibly satisfying to watch a huge variety of local disability projects that we have funded develop and flourish over many years.”

Project Board member Janet added: “Project board meetings have always been an opportunity to hear a range of views on the project process development from a diversity of individuals perspective. We have been able to explore ideas at depth and make decisions but through an efficiently managed meeting structure which kept us clearly to an appropriate agenda. The Get Togethers were a welcome relaxation for project members to chat and share ideas with a less formal atmosphere. The strength in the development of the Board has supported new remote ways of working since lockdown. Projects involving exploration and support of access and inclusion have been very important to me both personally as a wheelchair user and also as a member of the LGBT+ community.”

To ensure everyone can join in with Happy Hours, Get Togethers and Project Board meetings, members have been able to request headsets, webcams, technology or extra support to learn how to use the online platform Zoom. Ludo explained: “Getting used to new technology has been one of the challenges, as it takes time to navigate a new app that we weren’t all familiar with. We have also had to get used to the accessibility issues that this raises. And we are learning and discovering new ways to ensure that that the meetings are accessible to all.”

He added: “I have rather enjoyed this new way of working, I struggle with sensory issues and can quite easily become overwhelmed in many social situations. Accessing meetings virtually has meant that I am less fatigued than usual.”

The Project Board have been looking at other ways they can support members and the wider community. Harriet said: “We have had to be pretty practical in what we can offer right now. We have been sending out links to activities that are happening online. We are also talking about doing accessible art activities online as well as journaling and writing workshops. We are looking at being able to put it all in a book or publication so that disabled people can share their experiences of lockdown.

“Another idea people had is sending people things to grow at home like herbs, succulents or house plants. Funding for this was agreed at the Get Together and three people volunteered to help plan this. We’re sending postcards with all items to let people know we are here and thinking of them.”

The Hove group also agreed funding to distribute Hidden Disabilities sunflower lanyards directly to disabled people across the city, to support people with less visible impairments or access needs to safely access food shopping, exercise or other services with less stress at this time. Shopping and food remains a key issue for disabled people at the moment, especially those who need support to do so or cannot queue or social distance in shops for various reasons.

The Get Together also voted to allocate money to disabled families plus those in refuges to provide art, craft and sensory activities, and the project has also been using Scope resources like Mindful Monsters which are mindfulness activities for children.

Harriet added: “The pandemic means we have had to be reactive right now, focussing on practical aspects and supporting members who feel like they have lost control, equal access or their support routines in the lockdown. But we are working towards moving back to long-term planning too – focusing on campaigning and our other priorities.”

To read more news from the Trust, click here.

Support us, play The Health Lottery!