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Hackney Befriending service offers vital lifeline to isolated people with disabilities

An Advocacy and Employment Training Session before the lockdown. Courses train people with disabilities and one or two non-disabled people as disability advocates to help get people back into work. Picture: Choice In Hackney

An Advocacy and Employment Training Session before the lockdown. Courses train people with disabilities and one or two non-disabled people as disability advocates to help get people back into work. Picture: Choice In Hackney

Choice In Hackney

A Hackney organisation advocating for people with disabilities has offered vital support to increasingly isolated service users during the coronavirus pandemic.

Choice In Hackney provides contact-free gardeners to help people maintain their gardens. Picture: Choice In HackneyChoice In Hackney provides contact-free gardeners to help people maintain their gardens. Picture: Choice In Hackney

Choice in Hackney, one of the largest disabled people’s organisations in the borough, has moved all its services online to ensure service-users can still connect with others while social distancing.

Community Volunteer Officer Paul Salt said: “Isolation was such a big issue facing disabled people before [the lockdown].

READ MORE: Free talk therapy and support for Hackney LGBT people struggling during coronavirus lockdown

“There were significant numbers of the population entirely blocked off from accessing community services we all take for granted and, with Covid-19, it just made it even more so.”

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According to a 2017 report by disability charity Sense, having one or more impairment “increases the risk of social isolation” and disabled people “are more likely to be chronically lonely”.

To combat loneliness Choice in Hackney provides a befriending service and contact-free gardeners as well as running online active lifestyle sessions, advocacy, employment training and hate crime projects.

Social distancing measures have meant volunteers must now call service-users instead of meeting face-to-face yet hundreds of people continue to benefit from the phone calls.

Paul told the Gazette: “Befrienders call up a few times a week in order to reduce isolation – which is obviously a huge thing right now with Covid-19.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Mental health charity needs to raise £15,000 to continue services “Support networks have been split apart and services which might normally help someone to get out of their home or even just see another human being are reduced or just not there.

Having someone speak to them a few times a week can be a really big thing it can make a huge difference to people.”

Advocates at the organisation also report experience difficulties around accessing emergency short term accommodation for service-users due to shielding and lock-down measures.

The user-led organisation also runs a Hate Crime project providing support to disabled people who have experienced some form of hate crime.

It has dealt with 31 cases since lockdown began in April, many of which involve harassment from neighbours related to disability and race. To volunteer with Choice In Hackney visit click

here.

To donate to the organisation click here.

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