Connecting in the North

Shay a person we support dancing

Connect in the North is a centre for inclusive living, led by people with learning disabilities. It provides free advice and guidance for anyone with a learning disability in Leeds and the surrounding area. People can choose from a range of topics, from employability skills to accessing the right support.

As with all of our partner groups, their work has been profoundly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Almost all of their services were face to face and over the past year they’ve only been able to open their doors a few times to a handful of people. 

One simple way of continuing to support people– some of whom have been effectively locked down since March – to keep their vital social connections was to start to move online. And this is where Creating Connections came in.

Sarah and Madeleine, who are leading on the Creating Connections project, began by looking at how this could be done and identifying any potential barriers. Some of the worries were:

  • A general fear of change, mostly among family members of the people they support, as all previous communication during Covid-19 had been through newsletter or landline phone calls
  • Anxiety about going online from people who hadn’t done it before and didn’t see the good things it could bring
  • People didn’t have enough digital skills or technology

After thinking about all of this, they decided to use their Creating Connections funding to run training sessions for their own support staff, as well as the people they support, on how to use Zoom video calling. They wanted to build people’s confidence and help them to grow their digital skills.

They ran five different sessions. Two were face to face to support people to attend who hadn’t been online before, and the feedback was really positive. One support worker who came along said:

“The participants found it really useful. They were pleased they could change their Zoom background, for example, and this cheered up other people they were on a call with.

“We could see that participants were getting more confident with using Zoom because they were using it more.”

Sarah added:

“We’ve seen the joy when people see their friends online and they cheer each other on. We’ve seen people’s confidence grow as they’ve learnt to show reactions/emotions, or to re-name themselves on Zoom, which is usually pretty funny! 

“There’s been a lot of laughter, but most of all we’ve seen people with learning difficulties learn new skills.”

It worked so well that Sarah decided to put together a video so that people could talk about what they’d learned and maybe inspire others to give something new a go.