Disability Initiative (DI) is an established charity that specialises in the provision of disability services to adults with physical disabilities and /or acquired brain injury. Their mission is to offer opportunities and support to individuals to enable them to realise their potential and aspire to their chosen goals.
Operating in Surrey and Hampshire their programmes have been hugely beneficial to individuals with disabilities but during the process, they also identified an additional group who have a very important role but are often lacking support themselves. For those acting as informal carers (often friends, families or loved ones) the role of a carer can be difficult, often juggling work commitments whilst trying to do their best for those they care for.
“Over the last few years DI has witnessed first-hand the informal carers’ needs and well-being increasingly neglected as they prioritised their loved one’s care. This led to feelings of isolation, depression, stress, and burnout and this selfless commitment was impacting emotionally, physically, and financially.” Lucy Brown - Chief Executive, Disability Initiative
In 2016, a distressed Carer of one of their clients sparked action. Working two jobs to make ends meet alongside raising two teenagers and caring for her husband, who’d had a severe brain injury after a major motorbike accident, she was struggling and felt unable to cope without any support network.
“I asked her what Disability Initiative could do to support her and she said that a couple of hours of fun, where she could forget her responsibilities, learn, have new experiences, and meet others who had found themselves to be carers.” Lucy Brown - Chief Executive, Disability Initiative
Having previously been a Carer herself, everything she said resonated with Lucy and an unconventional carers group began, with a focus on fun and positivity. Initially 15 other Disability Initiative Carers in similar circumstances were invited to attend a gathering with their Patron and President. They shared their stories, explaining how these new roles had impacted their lives and it became quite evident that every aspect of their lives had been affected. Whilst they had all found Disability Initiative hugely beneficial for the individuals it was created for, this group gave them the opportunity to focus on their needs and the emotional support they required in their role as Carers.
The sessions run bi-monthly by Lucy and two other members of staff and are free to attend for any carer who doesn’t do it as their main profession. Calling on favours from contacts, including Bank Managers, Dieticians, Sculptors, Singing Coaches, and others, they managed to test and evaluate the benefits of the group with minimal costs. As the popularity and demand for the sessions have increased, small donations have come in enabling term to develop and to continue to fund the sessions.
The lockdowns during Covid and the aftermath of this didn’t help their clients or carers. Reduced access to services and limited social interaction added further responsibilities to the carers, along with the additional health risks and for some, financial strain. Whilst the Carers evenings are always designed to be a fun environment, each session is also providing a valuable service, including, support, training, and access to other resources.
“Investing in carers not only enhances their ability to manage their caregiving responsibilities with confidence and resilience but also reduces the strain on the healthcare system and social services.“ Lucy Brown - Chief Executive, Disability Initiative
Disability Initiative’s biggest challenges are around the ever-tightening criteria to access services for those who are most vulnerable and the lack of investment in intervention and prevention. By the time clients and their carers reach their services, they are often in crisis and their situations have rapidly deteriorated.
Just before Covid, Disability Initiative opened a satellite centre in Fleet and looking to the future, their ambition is to develop and expand this model as specialist hubs across Hampshire.
“Our ultimate strategic aim is to create a state of the art, community-based specialist respite / rehab centre on the Hants, Surrey boarders, enabling people who are transitioning from hospital and adjusting to an acquired disability or be equipped with the knowledge or advice to return home. A centre would offer a structured environment where individuals can receive specialised services, while also giving Carers an opportunity to rest, rejuvenate and learn.” Lucy Brown - Chief Executive, Disability Initiative
Leo Lion Foundation is proud to offer their support with the funding contributing towards the next couple of years of Carers evenings.