By Melanie Hinde, Community Engagement Manager
I’m the Community Engagement Manager here at Disability Positive, which means I look after and support the planning and delivery of social groups for people living with disability and long term conditions.
This week the team are planning the Active Friendships group, which is online dance/physical activity sessions for people aged 14+.
It’s a brilliant group which started after great success with the Get Yourself Active programme and we decided to build on that and apply for some funding from Sport England back in August 2020.
The funding was just for organisations like Disability Positive, which are run by and for people with lived experience of disability and long term conditions.
We usually have about 20 people a week. Delivering the group online might sound easy, but there is a lot of preparation involved to make sure it all runs smoothly and safely.
First of all, I need to risk assess the activity and the use of social media for those taking part. The Support workers that run the group all have to do safeguarding training, including the use of social media and the team all have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, which checks there is nothing in our backgrounds that would stop us working safely with this group.
To make everyone as safe online as possible, the team ask everyone who is joining to register before participating in the sessions and tell them they will have to share their name when they join online each week.
On the day, when people arrive at the virtual meeting, they are let in one by one to make sure staff know who is joining. There also a side room and private chat ready in case anyone needs it.
I keep a full list of everyone who has joined, and make sure I get permission before taking any photos. Usually people are happy to have their photo taken though, as they love sharing with friends and family what they have been up to!
Once the session finally starts, the tutor leads everyone in a series of different movements, and everyone can do their own thing as well. The team try to encourage everyone to take part and chat, and everyone can take a break whenever they need to as it can get quite energetic and loud!
By the end, everyone is always left feeling really happy but often pretty tired! And I’m always full of excitement and ideas for the next one.
We get some brilliant feedback about these sessions; people think they are really fun and that the tutor is great at getting everyone involved without being overwhelming. During the pandemic, people also love being able to see their friends and do something together even if they can’t be in the same room.
Something that we’ve noticed about doing these groups online is they work really well for people who might experience sensory overload as they can easily take a break when they need to.
They are also good for people who feel uncomfortable or anxious about leaving home because of their mental health and there are some definite bonuses to sessions being online. Hopefully, we’ll be able to still offer these for a long time into the future.