A Lambeth Mencap project has been praised in a study for achieving ‘life changing’ benefits for people with profound and multiple learning disabilities (PMLD) – but needs more funding to ensure it continues.

Lambeth Mencap’s Carousel Project worked with more than 65 South London adults with PMLD and achieved ‘extremely positive and wide ranging outcomes and influences’, according to an independent academic evaluation of its impact by the University of Northampton.

The report also found that the specialist supported group activities such as swimming and sensory storytelling for people with PMLD reduce social isolation and lead to health benefits for service users. Benefits included improvements in posture and mobility, communication, engagement and emotional wellbeing.

In addition, the Carousel Project was praised for raising the profile of people with PMLD in Lambeth, as well as delivering additional benefits for carers and health professionals working with people with PMLD.

A young carer described in the report the impact that swimming with the Carousel Project has had on his brother with PMLD: “[We are] seeing improvements – he knows he’s coming swimming – he laughs, gets nervous, loves it – he sleeps well after swimming – that’s not usual for him – so our parents sleep well too!” 

The experience has also boosted the young carer’s confidence as he learns more about how to better support his brother. “[It] makes me feel important to help – to be more supportive in his life and understand him and what he needs.”

But, while the Carousel Project has been positively rated, the charity needs to secure future funding to carry on the project’s work as existing grant funding has run out. The charity is running the service out of its reserves but needs to raise £80,000 to continue to run and develop it.

Boz Borowy, director at Lambeth Mencap, said: “At Lambeth Mencap we know how wonderful the Carousel Project is but it’s a real boost to get academic recognition of the impact of our work.

“People with profound and multiple learning disabilities can be very difficult to reach but this makes progress, however small it may seem, all the more rewarding. To most people something as simple as responding to music or acknowledging someone’s presence with a nod is not unusual, but for many of our service users with PMLD it can be a really meaningful moment.

“Many of the families and carers of people who use our Carousel Project tell us that they don’t know what they’d do if it closed its doors, and we are urgently seeking funding so that this doesn’t have to happen.”

Ann Fergusson, author of the report from the University of Northampton, added: “Everyone involved in Lambeth Mencap’s Carousel Project were unanimous in their acknowledgement of the improvements and positive impact on people with PMLD. These positive differences ranged from the emergence of very small and subtle changes through to transformative and life-changing breakthroughs, where one individual was enabled to meaningfully and enjoyably participate in a group opportunity, for the first time in their life.

“It is vital that the innovation afforded by this unique and effective project is acknowledged for its leading-edge model and approaches. The Carousel Project offers an inspirational model of delivery and I hope that it not only survives but thrives, and leads to more services such as this to be developed in the future.”

Funded by a grant from Guys and St Thomas’ Trust, the 3-year programme to set up and run the Carousel Project was designed to fill a gap in services for people with PMLD, a very vulnerable group which the report finds face many barriers and social isolation. It has done this by providing a range of community-based activities in the Lambeth area and since 2012 has supported 68 people with PMLD.

The project started by establishing a core of 4 community-based activities in the Lambeth area – Saturday Stories, Dance and Movement, Rebound Therapy and Swimming. The popularity of these sessions has grown to the extent that many now have waiting lists for people to attend. Over the life of the project other activities were added, such as a series of creative workshops led by the English National Ballet based around the Nutcracker.