Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) come in all shapes and sizes, including many that specifically support people with a learning disability. At Get Yourself Active, we have worked closely with grassroots organisations, including DPOs, supporting their local community.

We know that these organisations are the bedrock of sport and physical activity for people who often have the least access to it. Research suggests that disabled people and people with long-term health conditions are among the least active in society. 

DPOs are often crucial in providing the culturally appropriate and sensitive services that people with a learning disability need. However, we know that too often, these small organisations compete with larger organisations, some of which are not user led, for local authority contracts to deliver sports and physical activity.

It seems such a shame and a missed opportunity that smaller organisations often miss out on the chance to deliver projects they are perfectly suited to. This means that they then have little choice but to rely on grants such as the Together Fund to be able to offer physical activity to their clients at all.

Grassroots support for physical and mental health

At Get Yourself Active, we have a lot of experience supporting DPOs and the grassroots physical activity sector. To date, we have awarded 97 grants from the Together Fund. 

These exciting activities have directly and indirectly supported over 3,500 Disabled people through fitness and yoga, dance and performance-based activities, peer mentoring and buddying support, and sport.

We have seen the impact that activities and programmes created and run-in partnership with disabled people can have. Their influence isn’t just measured in their physical effect on participants’ bodies, but also mentally, on how being active can improve people’s lives and wellbeing.

Many people participating in Together Fund projects have reported improvements in their physical wellbeing (e.g., strength, mobility, fitness). However, evaluating the grassroots projects we support has made it clear that participating in activities has a range of mental well-being and social benefits, such as reduced isolation and improved confidence and mood. 

We have found that small organisations are confident in taking the lead from the people they support. We have seen digital delivery mechanisms (such as Zoom, Teams and other digital platforms) opening physical activity to new audiences, with grassroots organisations working with those who participate to ensure they are always active in ways that work for them. 

A new solution in co-production

Working with grassroots organisations also allows us to gain further insight into some of the barriers that people with learning disabilities face within their local communities and the difficulties that smaller organisations can experience, which can differ from the barriers found within larger organisations.

One way they can overcome some of these barriers is by looking at different working models, such as co-production. Although commonly seen as just simply engaging with the community, co-production is, in fact, much more. 

A one-off consultation or workshop to discover people’s ideas can sometimes be all that is needed. However, it’s important to remember that this is not co-production and should not be labelled as such – and often, deeper engagement is needed.

Co-production is a specific working model where everybody works together on an equal basis to create a service or come to a decision that works for them all. At its centre is an organisational shift in power dynamics to create an equal relationship between the people who use services and those who provide them. 

Co-production supports people to use their own experiences and capacity to influence, blurring the boundaries between ‘professionals’ and ‘people who use services’ so that power is shared more equally. 

It makes sense that when services are genuinely co-produced, they generally work better because they make the most of the shared expertise of the professionals who work there and the people who have experience using them. Working in partnership can only be positive!

It can feel like there is a lot to get your head around if you’re starting on your co-production journey. Our co-production webinars could help – each one is only 15-20 minutes long, and they cover various topics led by different presenters.

 

Mikey Erhardt, Get Yourself Active Communications Officer.