Letchworth Garden City Heritage Foundation provided grant funding to help a Hertfordshire charity purchase 16 reconditioned iPads so local people with disabilities could socialise and take part in online activity sessions during lockdown.
Herts Disability Sports Foundation (HDSF) offers a lifeline to 305 people with disabilities and their families across the county.
Pre-lockdown, this registered charity’s holistic approach to inclusive sports development saw it delivering a broad range of energetic activities to 26 disabled groups, with sessions including archery, easy rider adapted cycling, boccia, dance, fitness and mobility, wheelchair basketball, teambuilding sessions, ‘doughnutting’, bell boating and fishing.
The nationwide lockdown and social distancing requirements brought all these activities to a sudden halt and resulted in the closure of the day centres attended by many service users. Ros Cramp, HDSF Charity Operations Manager, recognised the devastating impact that these changes risked having on the physical and mental health of service users, so launched into action.
She quickly set up an online programme of regular exercise sessions, carefully tailored to age and ability levels, for delivery on the Zoom cloud platform. All sessions would provide vital opportunities for service users to engage with the outside world, take part in physical exercise and have fun, make new friendships and build on existing ones.
The online programme was an immediate hit with service users, who are aged between four and 70. From their homes, they were able to access a wide range of classes, including ‘friendship and fitness’, ‘dance and movement’ and the highly imaginative ‘adventure’ sessions. A series of weekly discos, with playlists chosen by participants, proved hugely popular.
For many people, lockdown would mean increased isolation. To combat this, Ros ensured that the driving force behind the initiative was inclusivity: “People could join these Zoom sessions and access the activities before receiving a formal diagnosis of a disability; they did not need to provide proof.”
On discovering that service users without the necessary IT equipment or internet access were unable to join in the fun, the Heritage Foundation stepped in with a generous grant offer that enabled HDSF to buy 16 reconditioned iPads. These devices have greatly enhanced the quality of their service users’ lives – SIM cards were also provided to service users who didn’t have home WiFi.
Internet access has opened the doors to many new and expansive opportunities. Service users now have the freedom to take part in HDSF’s many creative and high-energy sessions from home. If they are feeling lonely, they can organise video chats with friends and family at any time. And whenever they are online, they are of course honing the all-important IT skills that are required in today’s increasingly connected world.
Ros is grateful to the Heritage Foundation for its funding assistance and delighted with both the take-up and success of the online programme during lockdown. Participation in HDSF’s online activities grew steadily during lockdown and by week seven, more than 1,350 people had taken part in at least one session.
Ros intends to maintain the momentum after the lockdown restrictions are eased: “Once normal service is resumed, we’ll keep supporting those who have signed up with us during lockdown – if we don’t run any activity sessions local to where they live, we’ll signpost them to other groups.”
To find out more, visit the HDSF Facebook page.