Beyond Words

Beyond Words

30 January 2018 in Isolation.

Case for Support Challenge 500

Can you get involved?

Books Beyond Words recently launched its 5-year vision and strategy at Lambeth Palace, when launching our new “Going to Church” picture book. “Challenge 500” aims to equip, train and support 500 churches across the UK, to engage with about 5,000 people who have learning disabilities, building a new dynamic and sustainable community within Britain’s churches.

In North West London church parishes, we will use our new “Going to Church” as a starting point to support the establishment of new church-based groups, enabling people with learning disabilities to become more genuinely involved in their church communities.

We will:

  • Support people with learning disabilities to explore aspects of a Christian church community, raising aspirations and confidence.
  • Help to address the spiritual questions and “bigger” questions we all have, taking into account all aspects of the lives of those with learning disabilities.
  • Use our picture-based resources to enable people with learning disabilities to engage with real-life health, emotional and social issues, moving individuals out of isolation and loneliness, into friendship and supportive groups.
  • Support church communities to understand the elements which need to be in place in their churches to welcome and include people with learning disabilities.
  • Build links between churches and their local providers of care, support and leisure activities for people who have learning disabilities. This will usually include delivering presentations at local forum meetings.
  • Train up to 50 church staff and volunteer book club facilitators, including adults with learning disabilities.
  • Provide ongoing support and mentoring to ensure successful establishment of new book clubs.
  • Increase awareness of the value of people with LD within the church.
  • Monitor and evaluate the impact of the new book clubs

The Financials

The ‘Challenge 500’ Pilot Project requires £30,000 to deliver training, book provisions, ongoing support and evaluation development/outputs to 12 churches across London. To date: £15,000 has been raised, 5 churches have been identified and will begin induction and training in March 2018. We still require the remaining funding of £15,000.

Project Need

Having a learning disability (LD) negatively impacts the quality of life for 2% of the UK population (approx. 1.5 million people), to the extent that:

  • Fewer than 7% of adults with LD have a job
  • At least half of adults with LD still live in the family home, without extended networks, reducing their ability to gain any independence
  • While around 1 in 4 people will experience mental health problems during their lifetime, for those with learning disabilities this rises to 40.9% (Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities 2014: “Feeling Down”).
  • People with LD tend to have low aspirations for themselves, which can be reinforced by low expectations of carers and supporters
  • With reduced access to community activities, support and services, social isolation is more likely, as is the and experience of hate crime and harassment (Lemos & Crane 2012 “Loneliness and Cruelty”)
  • There is shorter life expectancy, being more likely to die early from preventable causes (Confidential Inquiry into Premature Deaths of People with Learning Disabilities (CIPOLD))

We know from our own work and the extensive experience of our authors, advisors, self-advocates and readers that participation within communities and activities safeguards against loneliness, contributing to increased self-confidence, well-being and, ultimately, mental and physical health.

Project Outline

Based on Beyond Words’ successful “book club” model, we will establish regular discussion groups for adults with learning disabilities in 12 churches across London. These groups may take the format of café church, home groups or similar and will provide support networks and reduce isolation for some of the area’s most vulnerable residents. Books Beyond Words’ unique method of storytelling through pictures has been proven to enable people with learning disabilities to engage with and communicate about their own lives. Through sharing the books, individuals are supported to cope with life’s changes and challenges, while developing empathy and understanding.

Each book title has been co-produced by adults with learning disabilities, with over 100 people with LD involved in evaluating the pictures as part of our co-creation process. The resulting product enables people with learning disabilities grow in confidence and awareness, making choices and decisions more independently.

We have about 40 book club groups now meeting regularly on a weekly or fortnightly basis, for up to two hours. These groups develop into extended social communities and networks, with members organising activities arising from topics discussed in their book club, e.g. visiting the local police station, the National Gallery, having meals together etc. Our book clubs support and develop volunteering skills amongst members, further increasing wellbeing and self-worth.

To ensure book clubs are properly established and run, training is always delivered to staff, community volunteers, and adults with learning disabilities. Initial training teaches a range of methods which have been proven to deliver the most effective use of the books to engage with each individual. Follow-up support is provided to each book club by our book club co-ordinator, until facilitators are confident to continue independently. This training and support is a key element in equipping each person with skills and confidence.

Measuring Impact

Within the initial book clubs, about 20 adults with learning disabilities will benefit, although the number of beneficiaries will increase as similar groups grow across the area over time.

Facilitators at each Beyond Words book club are asked to maintain a reflective diary, which assists in gathering data in both quantitative and qualitative forms to measure the impact of the book clubs. We measure:

  • Number of facilitators, volunteers and people with learning disabilities trained
  • Number of book clubs and attendees
  • Issues covered / books read
  • Reported improvements in mental health and well-being, understanding and confidence and practical application of issues covered in the clubs, e.g. access to services
  • Measures of satisfaction of the club members, facilitators and venues.

About Books Beyond Words

For nearly 30 years Beyond Words has enabled people with LD and autism to engage with real-life situations, and to explore and understand the important issues that affect them personally. Our approach works to transform the attitudes of those who support people with LD, breaking down the barriers to enable people to fully participate in their lives and communities. We achieve this through our series of picture books, community book clubs and training for volunteers, librarians, health and social care professionals, family carers and direct support staff.

Founded and chaired by Professor the Baroness Sheila Hollins, Beyond Words (registered as “Books Beyond Words Community Interest Company”) has a strong team, supported by an experienced Board of Directors. The directors include a former advisor on children with complex learning difficulties and disabilities to the Secretary of State for Education and CEOs and Chairs of large LD providers.

The Books Beyond Words series currently has over 50 titles, incorporating 400 scenarios with over 1900 pictures. The books offer a unique pictorial method of storytelling, which has been proven to overcome the immense barriers to communication and social inclusion experienced by adults with LD and/or autism. Books cover issues ranging from health, relationships, crime, and abuse, to community living. When using these stories, people with learning disabilities discover they can access and share knowledge about their lives, feelings, and challenges.

The books:

  • truthfully represent life’s issues, which become immediately relevant
  • facilitate a shared language between supporter and the reader with LD
  • build a more equal relationship and dialogue while enabling individuals to understand and take control of aspects of their own lives
  • enable decision making

Beyond Words pioneers a method of facilitating communication, accessing knowledge and enabling people with LD and communication difficulties to enjoy more opportunities to participate in their own lives and communities. A recent academic literature review, pending publication in “Educational Neuroscience”, examined the reasons our unique pictorial method works with its focus on “reading for meaning”, compared to other communication methods, such as “Easy Read”. A summary of this research was published in The SEND Journal, May 2016 (Understanding Emotions and Books Beyond Words: a Neuroscience Perspective; Barry Carpenter, Jo Egerton & Stas’ Smagala). Approaches which rely even partly on printed words have been found to block the ability of people with LD to grasp the overall message. Our books communicate without words, showing emotional meaning through facial expressions, and exploring relationships through body language and colour.

Get involved

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Please email Vicki Partridge

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