Sense Scotland. Supporting disabled people and their families

Iriss.fm, episode 132
Published on 21 Aug 2015

Sense Scotland supports children and adults with disabilities. In this episode Michael McEwan talks to Communication Officer Graeme Thomson about the kinds of support offered and Support Worker Grant Hendry about arts and outdoor activities.

Date of recording
Audio transcript

What follows is a direct transcription of the audio recording, made by Iriss specifically to assist people with hearing difficulties. Because of the differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

This is IRISS FM, internet radio for Scotland Social Services. In this episode for IRISS.FM, I went out to Sense Scotland at TouchBase in Glasgow where I interviewed a Grant Hendry, one of the support workers at Sense Scotland, but first up let's hear the interview that I did with their Communications Officer at Sense Scotland, Graeme Thomson.

MM First of all, what is Sense Scotland? Give us an overview of the organisation.

GT Okay, Sense Scotland is a voluntary organisation. We're a care provider and we support children – young people and adults who've disabilities. Basically all stages of life and it can be through day support, through events, through early year's support - support to live in their own home, support to go on social events and holidays. We have respite support and we have a number of kind of special projects including the 'One Giant Leap', which is a kind of transitions group. We have partners in communication, now it's called 'Partners in Community', which is about making....assisting places to become more accessible in terms of how they give out information to people. We also have our arts, music and drama resources, which are very popular and have had quite a lot of success in the mainstream as well. So yip, there's lots we do and across Scotland too.

MM So, you're like a Communication's Officer here at Sense Scotland. Tell us what a Communication Officer does for Sense Scotland, day to day.

GT Day to day really it's about telling the story of the organisation and getting that story out to as many people as possible. You know it could be into the media, it could be through social media. And also communicating with the families and people we support, or people that are maybe wanting to find out more about Sense Scotland. So it's really telling people what we do, why we think we're very good at what we do and you know that perhaps, you know, there's something that we can do for somebody - whether it's a family who've just found out that their child has disability. We've got you know services from the early stages that can support people – maybe someone who's leaving school and is looking for what opportunities are available, what activities they can get involved in. So there's all these transitions in life and these big changes in lives for disabled people of all ages, and we hopefully have some kind of support that we can offer. And I try and kind of explain that as best as I can. But it's – I think it's about having a passion for the organisation and a belief in the values that started the organisation. It was families that started the organisation for their children because they felt that there weren't the services there that they needed. And we're still very much focussed on the families and the people we support – they're on the board of trustees. You know we seek their kind of views on the direction of the organisation and where they think we should be investing in the future. It's very much about the family and people we support.

MM If I can take one project at a time here. The outdoor activities?

GT The outdoor activities has been going for quite a few years now and you know that has involved networks. We started off as an organisation that supported deaf/blind people, but now the communication approaches that were used in terms of supporting people with dual sensory impairment actually allowed us to support a much wider group. So, we're still involved in some of those networks like DBI International and DBI Outdoor Networks. They've taken people on outdoor challenges for a week ... I visited that a couple of years ago up in Aviemore for a couple of days, and it was absolutely bucketing it down, but the groups where there from all over Europe and from Scotland and from England. Out in the rain, going through rivers and having a really proper sensory experience, you know. You don't go to Scotland and not expect that. So it was brilliant you know. I think it's about challenging perhaps what people think some people with disabilities can or can't do. In fact there was one man who after fording the river and there's pictures of them crossing the river said - he calls himself an action man. You know and that's really important, because actually he understands now that what he can do is much greater than perhaps you know what he thought, and maybe what other people thought previously. So that's very much about the outdoors and those kind of groups are very much about challenging what people can do and actually challenging....sometimes people close to people think 'I'm not sure – can we do that, actually?' People can do a lot of things, if they're given the right support, yeah.

MM You mentioned another project – One Giant Leap?

GT One Giant Leap has being going for a few years now and it really is about – it's a big lottery funded project, but it's about that often challenging transition. Transition is the term that's used quite widely, but it's about that point in which your finishing school and you don't know what's coming next. Very often that can be quite difficult. Sometimes services that people have disappear. So families and young people are kind of left in the lurch a wee bit. So One Giant Leap is a social group that meets regularly – they get together and they are very much you know, support each other. They get out and go – they've been on holidays together. They just hang out – they get to know each other. They try new activities. There's been elements of it – there's been a gardening project that they've been involved in. So they're learning new skills, they're socialising with people peers and also you know trying new things. I think one of my colleagues was saying earlier that groups like that give people confidence to try new things. But it's a really crucial stage that transition from children, young adults services into being supported as an adult. And it gives people that kind of sort of safety net and also friendship structure that's really important, you know.

MM And finally you mentioned everybody loves the arts. And you do arts projects so, just tell us what kind of projects you are running in the arts.

GT Well we have dedicated art practitioners in music, drama, visual arts and also woodcrafts. So these are people who are very skilled in supporting individuals to find out what they're – what gives them a buzz. You know for some people it is music, so that can mean – a few weeks ago we had a summer sensations performance where people had been working away in the background and coming in every week, recording new songs and then going up and performing in front of people. We've had a young man who's dance project has now taken him on a tour round Britain. We've had visual artists – people working in all sorts of different medium and paints and print, who are now displaying work in mainstream galleries. But very much it's about day to day, week by week, people coming in and trying - again a bit like the outdoors – it's trying new things and experiencing often very sensory lead kind of experiences. That can be for people who sometimes - people have got very, very complex support needs, but anyone can participate in the arts. It's open to everyone and that's where that arts – music and drama people - are very good at looking at the individual and working with them, and finding out what they like to do, and making that experience meaningful for them. And hopefully they want to carry on and do more of that. Sometimes that can mean an exhibition, sometimes it just means a point each week where they get to do something that really allows them to kind of explore their creativity. So yeah, it's an extension of communication lead approach in the organisation anyway. It's very much about an individual. You know you can have groups, but within those groups there are individuals who all got very different aspirations and things that they want to do. So sometimes arts and music and drama can give you a very focussed space to explore that.

MM I mean everything your saying about your projects there – would you say that confidence helps as well? When you said about people getting up to perform – kind of like in music terms, it's all about confidence and say well 'I can do this'. A lot of people said 'no', but I'm going to do this, you know.

GT Absolutely, I mean that is one end of the kind of spectrum, but we have people who started off with us who are really very kind of inhibited and it's partly about their age. You know they're teenager and now they're kind of grown up and their passion is dance, their passion is painting or whatever. And that can come out in any arena, so it could be in a really public space, like a performance in London or it could just be about sharing something that's important with you with another artist. It's very much about those relationships. But for some people it is – it's about 'this is me and this is what I love and I want to share it.' And that's a real joy to see people experience that. I think it's an important right – it's in the humans rights as the right to be creative and play. 

MM I think it also gives Sense Scotland a big pat on the back because when you take them in at first they have no confidence. But when they come out the other end they have – they're oozing with confidence and stuff like that. And the staff here must see a big change when they first come in.

GT I think so. I think we do very much put the families and carers at the centre of these journeys. So it's about finding out what perhaps - maybe there's little clues to something that people are interested in. But you do see people grow and it's about finding the right path that they're interested in. A lot of it is about socialisation. It's about giving people the thing we all crave which is hanging out with other people who you get on with and doing things together and sharing those experiences. But seeing people's confidence growing – and it's that journey of finding out what it is that somebody....what their passion is, what their interest is and everyone's got vastly different kind of interests. But when you see that little spark it's amazing.

MM So this is a big year for Sense Scotland. It's the 50th Anniversary

GT The 30th yeah.

MM The 30th – sorry. Organisation that's being going since 1985. So it's a big celebration this year. Have you got any events coming up or...?

GT There's certainly going to be – basically it kind of runs from the usual thing, where it runs from April to April, so we'll be extending it into 2016. But we've already got some events. We've got tying into the development new touch bases which are appearing – there's one in Lanarkshire – work has started that, and there's one in Ayrshire and we're having a kind of preview before the work starts on this exciting new space. So that's at the beginning of September. We're hopefully going to have some – it's all very under wraps at the moment - but some nice big events towards the end of the year that people can all participate in. So maybe things that people can come along to. But we'll also hopefully have some more fun social media stuff that's coming up that people can participate in. There's a challenge for people to dance, because dance is important to a lot of the people we support, so that's coming up in September – so watch this space. And if whatever – I've got my dad dance moves all stored up for that – but you know it is, it's about exploring that dance is open to everyone – it's all about movement and expression. So lots of fun, but things that are relevant to the people we support and the organisation that we are. So yeah, just watch this space.

MM Finally, before I go. Everybody has got a website or a Facebook page - so now's your time to promote your website. If people want some more information about your service, or else if they're listening to this and they haven't heard of Sense Scotland before.....

GT The main website is www.SenseScotland.org.uk and they're links on the bottom right to our Facebook pages and Twitter. Twitter @SenseScotland and Facebook is Sense Scotland Charity.

MM And now we are joined by one of the support staff here at Sense Scotland. So give us a wee insight into what it's like to.....

GH Well Hey there, I'm Grant Hendry and I'm one of the support staff working on the group service within Sense Scotland. This service caters to individuals that have support needs but not as complex – maybe thrive in a sort of more social setting, where they can come in, meet with their friends and they have lot more say in the sort of activities and the things that they want to do day to day. And that sort of lets them in a way take control of their own group and what they'd like to do and just sort of the things.

So the way we sort of run it is we have sort of monthly meetings with management and that lets all the service users get together, discuss a timetable, discuss what sort of things they'd want to do and then we can sit back and look at that and decide – OK, how can we achieve these sort of goals that they want. And we just do that through obviously either the resources here or trying to access things in the community or just day to day things. A lot of the time them being very social want to spend time together and even if that means just coming in, having a bit of quiet time, having a coffee, going out and playing some games, that's what they're now doing this morning. We've got most of the guys, cos it's such good weather – they're away out doing some sports at the local park. But they'll be back shortly for lunchtime and they all get together at lunchtime and that gives them time to sort of chat and discuss what they want to do. But we've got a timetable, but we like to open it up, so as they have a lot of say. So every day we'll have 2 different things based on what they've told us and from there we just sort of discuss what they want to do and they go out and do those sort of things.

MM So that Monday to Friday is that...?

GH The service itself is from Monday to Friday and currently it's from 9.30 – 3.30. We've a few people that make their own way in and few get escorted in and not everyone is the same every day. Like, we have people that are in maybe 2 days a week or 3 days a week or half days. I mean we've got a lot of people that....all our services are really busy – so some of them will be at college and they'll come in say in an afternoon after college, or they'll come in a couple of days. It varies – we've got a couple of people that are in all week, but that's sort of the exception rather than the rule.

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