Lockdown was rough, make no mistake. In those first few days, I kept waking up in the morning hoping that I had dreamt it all, and that my love of dystopian fiction had somehow crept its way into my dreamscape. The challenges that Covid-19 raised for us were unimaginable, and certainly all of us were faced with challenges we could never have imagined happening in our lifetime. For people with learning disabilities, especially those reliant on support outside the family, the challenges were even more pronounced.
This week is Learning Disability Week, and this year the focus is on the importance of friendship. People with a learning disability already experience high levels of loneliness and social isolation, and lockdown has heightened this for some. The awareness week gives us the opportunity to show the importance of friendships to help with tackling isolation, as well as exploring the different ways of maintaining friendships during this unusual time.
Reflecting on the past 12 weeks for Kisharon, I have seen enormous resilience from people we support, who have been courageous and caring throughout lockdown, adapted to technology and new ways to spend their time in ways none of us expected. Many new friendships have formed, and existing relationships between tenants, support staff and volunteers have been strengthened.
The dedication and exceptional hard work of our staff teams and volunteers, who worked alongside vulnerable people in the darkest days of the pandemic, was beyond any of our expectations. I hope we are able to find a meaningful way to recognise this now and into the future, so that this future this work force is not taken for granted, and the appreciation continues.
When we are at the edge of chaos, there is energy to make changes, and we have been spending a lot of time thinking about this. When things are stable and relatively easy, we are comfortable to keep doing what we are doing, and do not take the time to rethink what we actually want. We can be having new and rich conversations, for example: Who do we want to spend time with? What skills have we always wanted to learn, or try? What will keep me feeling happy and positive? What or whom are we really missing during lockdown? These are really good opportunities to have different kinds of conversations with people.
We also are coming to the realisation that the new normal may not be very much like what we had before, and that social distancing is going to be with us for a while – especially for those who are at higher-risk. These current times give us a great opportunity to rethink institutional-style day support and community, and how we can reconnect people to a community which is now accessible online and from anywhere. Attending shul services in Israel or conferences in Australia, connecting with new and old friends around the globe, flexible working, virtual and agile working styles, all of these are the kinds of things we will not want to lose. We at Kisharon have formed an exciting partnership led by Alei Tzion synagogue in Hendon, with joint events being planned for the coming months in order to recognise the mutual contributions that people from both organisations can bring, and build real and lasting friendships. This is a real opportunity for people with learning disabilities to be valued for what they can contribute to community, and be more than just recipients of support.
A local authority colleague has been looking at next steps in terms of Restore, Retain Reinvent – what are we hoping to resume from pre-pandemic days, what are the things that we have tried now that we want to hold on to, and what are we going to transform as we emerge on the other side?
Covid-19 has given us an opportunity to use it as a springboard to reimagine how we want the new world to look, since in many ways we are starting over. Let’s embrace the possibilities.