Buddy system starting across East London for young disabled people

61% of disabled people are experiencing chronic loneliness. Pic: Josh Appel

Disability charity, Sense is looking for volunteers for a face-to-face buddying programme that is launching across East London.

The charity designed the programme in the hope it would support young, disabled people with making and developing strong friendships by matching them with volunteers for weekly activity sessions.

The buddying programme gives disabled children and young people with complex needs the opportunity to make friends and get more involved with activities in their local community. To become a Sense buddy, you must be eighteen and be available for a minimum of six months. The charity also stated that depending on Government restrictions, becoming a buddy may start virtually.

Sense said in a statement: “The buddying programme, which has been running for five years, supports young disabled people to make friends, try new activities and develop skills, while forming connections in their local community. The children and young people are offered personalised support while parents and carers receive a break from caring opportunities to attend information events and join peer networks.”

The programme has now been running for five years but demand for the buddying service has ‘rocketed’ according to Sense, since the start of the pandemic. Due to the lockdown the programme has been operating online, allowing young disabled people the opportunity to form vital social connections in a time where many are feeling alone and isolated.

Mental health among young disabled people has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. Pic: Nathan Anderson

New research by the charity found that two thirds of disabled people are experiencing chronic loneliness. This figure rose to seven in ten for disabled people aged sixteen to twenty-four who said that social isolation is affecting their mental health. A further 33% said that they were limited to just one hour of person interaction each day. This figure was recorded pre pandemic, suggesting that this number may have significantly worsened since.

The findings have resulted in increasing fears surrounding the mental health problems that are facing disabled people, sparking the charity to call it a ‘crisis’.

Sense said: “Loneliness has risen across the whole population in the last year, loneliness has jumped by a quarter for those with a disability who, prior to the outbreak, were already disproportionately affected by the issue.”

Many disabled people who have social care have had reduced support as a result of the pandemic. This has meant that many have been unable to perform basic chores, including leaving the house, washing themselves and socialising.

Sense is now calling on the government for urgent action to increase mental health support for disabled people as well as a larger investment on future preventative measures to tackle issues such as loneliness.

Saihan Islam, a seventeen-year-old boy with autism from Mile End, Tower Hamlets is just one of many involved in the Buddying programme. In a statement issued by Sense, he said: “My experience of loneliness is continuous still to this day. Even before this pandemic…Even in my lessons, I would sit alone. When there was partner work, no one would want to work with me. Therefore, I would just do it by myself. I lost confidence in myself and always being belittled.”

Seventeen-year-old Saihan said his mental health has worsened over the pandemic. Pic: Sense

On the charity’s blog, Saihan wrote: “Being lonely is not a good feeling and can be really depressing. Most people wouldn’t want to be by themselves all the time and it can cause a lot of pain and destress, especially when you are in trouble or in need of a helping hand.”

Sense is now asking the public to sign its pledge that focuses on creating a more accessible society. By signing and supporting the pledge, Sense said they will send a free guide outlining ways to make life more inclusive for all. 

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