Since the COVID-19 crisis started in March, our Leep1 – Leeds People First team have been providing online support to their members with learning disabilities via a private group on Facebook. In a Q&A, Leep1 Manager Mandy Haigh talks about how the group has grown and helped to address some of the issues faced by their members during the lockdown.

How have the Leep1 team adapted to supporting members remotely?

On March 17th 2020, we held a contingency meeting of how we were going to adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our team came up with the idea of setting up a Facebook group for our members so that they were able to keep connected and still be able to have all the usual activities we provided, but online.
Since first opening up the page, we then realised that we needed to open our reach to other adults with learning disabilities and/or autism.

What challenges were there and how have you overcome these? 

The main challenges have been getting tech such as iPads and tablets to the most isolated who have little or no digital skills.
We have been lucky that we already used tablets and tech at the Leep1 office before the lockdown. The support prior to COVID-19 to get them online has definitely paid off during this pandemic.
However, we have opened our reach to support more adults with learning disabilities and/or autism during the pandemic and have found that many more still need vital support to stay connected. The other hurdle has been the people that are supporting them such as their carers, family or support workers – we have found they too have little or no digital skills.
We have managed to get 8 tablets out so far to people who were disconnected from society whilst also offering their support staff the skills to support them to join our Facebook group – ‘Leep1 Group’.
It is fantastic seeing their faces for the first time when they join our daily Zoom sessions at 3.00pm; it’s very heartwarming. We now have nearly 250 members in the online group

What benefits have there been? 

People have said that without our group, their mental health would have suffered. This has been the same for the staff too, it really has been a community of people supporting each other through the uncertainty of the lockdown.
Here is a link to our testimonial page:

How do people join the Facebook group? 

Follow the link below to hear a voice recording of how to join our group, there is also a video of all the current activities running.

Do you have any future plans for expanding your remote work? 

We have certainly seen some amazing benefits to the online group. People have had to learn much quicker to get online as instead of it being a need previously, it is now a necessity. The group members are already asking us to continue the online group and I really think it is a beneficial place where they can freely showcase their skills and have a voice.
A lot of the members are running their own live sessions after 3.00pm and their confidence has grown since the group has started.
I definitely see this as something for the future. Being able to have these digital skills opens up a new world to a person with a learning disability, from applying for jobs to shopping online and connecting with their peers.
However, it can sometimes have its drawbacks and this is where we need to make sure people using online technology can be safe from online predators.
The disabled community already suffer from isolation and being able to use tech can help to avoid this.