Everyone is having a tough time right now but lockdown has been even harder for the estimated 1.5 million people with a learning disability, like me. Before coronavirus we often experienced loneliness and were more likely to be lonely, as evidenced by the report produced by Mencap at the end of last year; the crisis has only made this worse.

This Learning Disability Week (15 – 21 June 2020) we wanted to show how important friendship is for people with a learning disability and demonstrate how people with a learning disability can stay in touch with their friends during lockdown.

Now, more than ever, people need to look beyond the label of ‘learning disability’. We are human beings with the same feelings, who just want someone to talk to and share hobbies with – and we can be amazing friends. That’s why this Learning Disability Week we have been celebrating the friendships of people with a learning disability by sharing their stories about their best friend on social media.

This was a really important way to talk about what friendships mean to people with a learning disability. In my experience, friends have helped guide me through good times and bad. If you’re upset or worried, it’s helpful to open up to a friend who will listen and not judge you. It can help you get through difficult times which is very important, especially during this time of crisis.

Friendships are also important in breaking down barriers and reducing stigma about learning disability. Just like anyone else, we have interests that we want to share with friends. I am passionate about history and during lockdown I realised I shared this interest with a friend who supported me to launch my new YouTube series, ‘History with Harry’. We had a lot of fun
creating it together.

Gig Buddies, a project run by Mencap, also brings people with and without a learning disability, together. It helps people share what they have in common, from gigs to bike rides or even musical theatre. Since lockdown, Gig Buddies has gone online and is now organising online socials with
quizzes and singalongs.

Technology has helped people with a learning disability stay connected
during lockdown. It has been hard not to see my friends and my colleagues
at work but video chat has helped me stay in touch. As well as Gig Buddies
going online, we’ve also launched Mencap TV, a series of fun how-to videos, including topics such as cookery, keeping fit and dance that help people with a learning disability share their interests with others and try something new.

If you don’t have access to technology, there are other ways to stay in touch. Gig Buddies, for example, has been posting letters and mix tapes to friends during lockdown. We wanted to celebrate friendships and show how, with the right support, people with a learning disability can stay in touch with their friends, and maybe even meet new ones, despite lockdown.

About Harry Roche
Harry is a Mencap ambassador and co-founder of ‘History with Harry.’
Search: #HistoryWithHarry via: www.youtube.com

Gig Buddies

Mencap TV
Search: ‘Mencap TV’ via: www.youtube.com

Find out more about programmes that support people with a learning disability to stay connected during lockdown on Mencap’s website: