New ‘interaction hubs’ have been created at learning disability services run by national charity Hft to allow people with learning disabilities to be able to enjoy the company of their loved ones safely.

The newly-made, specially designed wooden gazebos, which are being used in line with government guidance are located in 11 supported living services in Cheshire and Merseyside that support over 60 people with learning disabilities locally.

Inspiration for the project came from Hft’s Regional Manager, Laura Barron, who was keen to find a way for people to safely stay in contact with their loved ones. After coming up with the innovative idea to create outdoor interaction areas, building work began in November.

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The timber hubs, which came into use earlier in the year, contain lights, heating and benches, allowing people to shelter from the weather, and are complete with markings to help with social distancing. Operating using a booking system, the hubs have already proven popular with people who have previously suffered from low moods when poor weather means family visits have been cancelled.

People have missed face-to-face contact

Government guidance permitting, visits can now go ahead in all weather, with the added bonus of encouraging people to spend more time outdoors.

Laura Barron, Regional Manager, said: “Over the past year, people we support have faced huge changes to their daily routines and support networks. While many of them have been supported to engage with their family and friends using technology, people were still missing face-to-face contact. Family and friends are there for life, and maintaining these relationships is essential to everyone’s mental health and wellbeing.

“Thanks to this project, people have been able to enjoy some quality time with their families. We’ve been absolutely blown away by the response to this project, which has highlighted the generosity and community spirit that has been such an important force during these difficult times. We couldn’t be happier with the interaction hubs and are so looking forward to seeing more smiles on people’s faces as they enjoy a get together with their loved ones.”

Mrs Marsh’s daughter is supported at a local Hft service, and the family have been enjoying using the interaction hubs to spend time together.

She said: “We are very grateful that the hubs have been built. They enabled us to help our daughter enjoy her birthday and put a smile on her face. Prior to having them we used to only get to see our daughter on days where the weather was dry but now we have the hub we can see her whenever we want to see her, or whenever she’s having a bad day and needs us.”