A new research project will explore how adults with learning disabilities are developing fresh ways to live fulfilling lives in local communities, as traditional care provision is scaled back.

"Examples might include peer-support, pooling of personal budgets to hire out a space for a group event and working with local community groups to develop inclusive activities."

Many more people with a learning disability are now living independently, and using packages of personalised care and support to enable them to participate in activities in their local communities. At the same time, there have been significant cuts to services and sites provided by local authorities, including the closure of day centres and reduced adult education provision, creating uncertainty for many.

The changes have provided new opportunities for many people to make choices about the care and support they receive and to engage in new activities and experiences. There is some anecdotal evidence of how adults with learning disabilities, together with their families, supporters and advocacy organisations, are developing new initiatives in the new environment of limited formal provision. However, overall, little is known about this potentially significant transformation in social care and support.

'Self-build networks'

The research project seeks to examine in detail the innovations in social care developed by adults with learning disabilities and their supporters in four case-study areas in the UK – two in England (Southampton and Dorset) and two in Scotland (Glasgow and Angus, NE Scotland).

Examples of such initiatives could be forms of peer-support including ‘friendship circles’, pooling of personal budgets to hire out a space for a group event, and working with local community groups to develop inclusive activities. The project is calling these initiatives ‘self-build networks’, to reflect their local, ‘bottom up’, and ‘do it yourself’ nature.

Throughout the project, small advisory groups of adults with learning disabilities will be involved in the design of the research and the analysis of the data collected, supported by local advocacy organisations. It will be an interesting and empowering experience for those who get involved.

The project will develop a set of resource packs for emerging initiatives, on issues including funding, organisation and activities. The packs will also be sent to local care providers, and national agencies, so they know about this new form of social care, and how best to support it. There will also be an online resource, with lots of ideas and inspiration, stories from the case-study areas, and short films showcasing the initiatives people are developing.

Collaboration

The research project is being led by Associate Professor Andrew Power at University of Southampton, together with Professor Melanie Nind, also at Southampton, and Dr. Ed Hall, University of Dundee. There are also two researchers on the project, Dr. Hannah Macpherson (based in Southampton) and Dr. Alex Kaley (based in Dundee). The project is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.

Researchers at the universities of Southampton and Dundee, working with local and national partners, will speak to local providers of care, and to adults with learning disabilities, to find out how people are responding to changes in social care.

If you would be interested in contributing to the research, or have any questions, please contact Andrew Power at a.power@soton.ac.uk