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13 July, 2023

Grant amount: £6,000

Include.org

  • Grant programme: Positive Futures
  • Region: South East

Towards the costs of the Stroll and Sign programme, with a specific emphasis on the 18-25-year-old cohort

About the organisation

Include is and award-winning Redhill-based charity working with people with learning disabilities and / or autism from the age of 16 upwards. Include’s physical or creative activities and training are developed by Speech and Language Therapists and people with lived experience of communication needs.

The projects are delivered with the help of 50+ volunteers – including Supported Volunteers with disabilities. Together we teach Makaton signing and other inclusive communication skills to people with disabilities, their families, support staff and communities, enriching opportunities for inclusion.

Organisation’s objectives:

Include helps ensure nobody is excluded because of understanding or speaking difficulties by providing Speech and Language Therapy-based community activities and training which:

  • Promote inclusion and wellbeing
  • Empower people with communication needs
  • Develop communication skills with individuals, services and communities

About the project

Stroll and Sign

Among 18-24-year-olds, 20.2% of the learning disability population experience obesity, compared with 3.4% of the rest of the population. (NHS Digital Data 2022). And nearly two thirds (61%) of disabled people report feeling chronically lonely, and even higher (70%) for young disabled people. (2021, Sense charity research).

Stroll and Sign brings the benefits of outdoor exercise, contact with other people and mindful observation of nature to people age 16+ who have communication disabilities. We aim to reduce isolation and help people feel more confident about visiting new places and communicating.

With the support of The Peter Harrison Foundation, we have been able to engage more people and explore new places in partnership with other organisations such as Alice Holt Forest with Forestry England, Gatton Park, National Trust Surrey Hills and Epsom Downs with the Mary Frances Trust.

The walks are a safe space for constructive conversations about people’s health and wellbeing. Our staff and some volunteers are now trained (by Surrey Community Action) in Making Every Contact Count (MECC) techniques. So, we can support participants to improve their confidence and motivation in making positive changes towards a healthier lifestyle.

The Include Champions (people with lived experience of disabilities) have also produced Easy Read resources that support the ethos of the Stroll and Sign project – one about physical wellbeing, one about mental wellbeing and one explaining about Stroll and Sign itself: View easy read resources

We use our charity’s website and social media channels to share images and information about Stroll and Sign. We have also been able to distribute leaflets and emails to help raise awareness. The Mary Frances Trust and other organisations have mentioned Include’s Stroll and Sign sessions in their own socials and newsletters.

Impact of PHF’s support

Nearly 100 people have attended Stroll and Sign sessions between September ‘23 and May ‘24 (PHF funding will take us to July 2024). Each session usually involves a staff member and at least one volunteer. At some busier sessions – like our Easter Stroll and Sign there were 23 attendees plus 4 volunteers as well as a couple of supported volunteers and staff members.

This is an empowering project. Include ensures that Stroll and Sign brings opportunities for people who are often ‘cared for’ to get out and lead the group and help make decisions about what happens on the walks. And there are opportunities to not only learn and demonstrate Makaton signing and knowledge of the environment, but also to use an ipad and the Pictello app to take photos and record aspects of the activity. The electronic records also create ‘chatbooks’ which members and staff can use to support non-verbal participants to reflect on and share what they did and saw – we all have a right to tell our stories.

Many of Include’s beneficiaries have a blend of abilities and disabilities – and while the focus is on supporting communication needs, Include also caters to other individual needs. So visually impaired people for example, are supported to take part in the physical activity in the various green spaces of Surrey.

Include also tries to incorporate multisensory aspects to the experience. And this is quite a big deal…”It gets me out of town. I can find my own way around town ok but only places I know. My doctor says I need to lose weight and do more exercise – but it is not easy when you are blind.” Jan

It was a conversation with Jan about his health that happened organically at a Stroll and Sign session that instigated the setting up of MECC training (Public Health Training that enables us to have conversations which can catalyse change for people’s health and wellbeing) for the Stroll and Sign team.

Stroll and Sign is popular with family groups as well as disabled individuals. Parent / carers often comment on how they like to be able to be out in a social group themselves. More than three quarters of all carers (79%) feel stressed or anxious, half (49%) feel depressed, and half (50%) feel lonely.  (State of Caring Survey 2023 – The impact of caring on health). So, there are wellness benefits for carers too.

“It’s lovely to group walk – it’s more sociable and relaxing. We learn about nature from each other too.” “We always look out for each other – it’s a bit like a family group really. It’s good how everyone feels accepted in that group.”

Things I like about Stroll and Sign; “…the friends, the birds, trees and listening to the birds.” Lucia

It takes place on weekends – which can be a time when some people with additional needs experience increased loneliness and inactivity.

“I wanted to get involved because I was very lonely and I enjoy Makaton so much, and use it a lot personally. At first, I was very anxious, only because I always am when facing new places, people and situations BUT this didn’t last long! Soon I was comfortable and felt ‘included’ and part of an amazing community and surrounded by lovely, genuine people.” Beth

Stroll and Sign is a project that brings people with and without disabilities and from different areas of Surrey together for shared experiences, fostering a more inclusive community and new contacts and links that can help people beyond the time they are at the wellbeing walks.

How does your organisation exemplify PHF’s values?

Excellence – Supporting and implementing best practice:

Speech and Language Therapy (SLT)expertise underpin all of Include’s projects. The charity and CEO Alix Lewer have received awards from The Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists for “Giving Voice” to people who may otherwise not be heard. Include also involves and gives opportunities to university students who are trainee SLTs – ensuring we remain at the cutting edge of SLT developments.

The charity has been recognised with The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service – the equivalent of an MBE for volunteers! In 2023 Include won two Stars in Surrey awards (the County Council’s awards) in recognition of our work in the community championing Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. And we won a Social Enterprise award at the Reigate & Banstead Business Awards.

Quote from Include.org Supporter and QVA Nominator; “The Queens Award for Voluntary Service is a badge of excellence highlighting Include volunteers’ outstanding community support – a way of saying thank you and well done for all your exceptional work.”

 

Entrepreneurship – Operating with ambition, inspiration, and determination:

Include.org is unique in Surrey, offering social, learning and therapeutic opportunities to everyone, no matter the origin or type of communication need. Within our network, people with varying needs can meet, support and learn from each other. For example, one Supported Volunteer with autism, who finds it hard to find the confidence to communicate, will support another member with more profound needs who is confident and social – but has less functional language. People whose lives may not cross paths through other activities, services or institutions unite at Include.

The charity has achieved a lot with very tight resources and no full-time staff (staffing is equivalent to 3.86 FT employees). The volunteering community is strong and skilled. Many of the staff also donate significant hours as volunteers. CEO Alix put herself forward for mentoring with the School for Social Entrepreneurs – enabling her to develop more skills as the charity has grown.

Feedback from service users and the wider community is regularly sought, and Include can demonstrate the clinical and social impact of its projects. Feedback is integral to weekly operations as Include looks to members / people with lived experience to help inspire the content of the projects and how things are done. Over the last year Include has been evolving to ensure that at least 75% of the charity’s Trustees are people with lived experience of communication needs.

Board Member feedback; “Include.org is a relatively new charity but Alix is bold in its targets and relentless in creating pathways and relationships with people, families, carers and businesses. I’m excited to see the continued impact Alix’s work has on the people with learning disabilities as well as everyone else involved.”

 

Integrity – Acting responsibly, respectfully, reflectively, and transparently:

Alix Lewer founded Include after 13 years working for the NHS. She was a Safeguarding Lead as well as a Speech and Language Therapist.

The charity’s senior leadership team knows that the best way to create inclusion is not just through supporting and developing people with disabilities. The ethos is based on the Social Model of Disability – so a key focus is to influence real change in society – meaning community outreach and partnerships are key.  Include’s projects bring people who have understanding and speaking difficulties together with the wider community to reduce isolation and develop shared understanding.

Include’s multifaceted approach, offers opportunities for support workers, family members and the whole community to up-skill and become better and more inclusive communication partners. And Include welcomes and supports people with disabilities as supported volunteers, Trustees or staff within the organisation. The charity has a reliable and clear programme of volunteer and staff training, including safeguarding.

Supported Volunteer feedback; ” Being part of Include helps me to be myself. It makes me feel proud and relaxes me…I feel listened to. There are people with and without disabilities and we all help each other. Together we raise awareness of communication needs.”

 

Sustainability – Empowering stakeholders to deliver a legacy:

Include has an Annual Plan, a 5-year strategic plan and a funding pipeline and there is a history of successful fundraising via events like Run Reigate and digital national fundraisers like The Big Give. What is special about community fundraising with Include is that often beneficiaries put themselves forward to support the charity.

For example Martin, who has run the Reigate Half Marathon twice to raise awareness and funds for Include. He says; “I feel I haven’t achieved a lot since my college days – but I was ready to take on my next challenge and fundraising for a great cause like Include.org has made me feel like I have achieved a lot. It is a super feeling to help Include (and the choir) – not just running for myself.”