Two innovative programmes that give people with disabilities the opportunity to develop skills and lead change in their local communities have been given over £5m from the Covid-19 Support Fund. Leonard Cheshire and Mencap are the final recipients of donations from the Fund, established by the insurance and long-term savings industry last year to help those with the greatest need.

About two thirds (65%) of disabled people said the pandemic was affecting their wellbeing, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). A survey undertaken by Mencap last year showed the devastating impact of the pandemic on people with a learning disability. Family carers said that 69% had seen a detrimental impact on their mental health, 73% on their relationships, 54% on their physical health and 67% on their independence.

Leonard Cheshire will expand its award-winning skills development programme ‘Can Do’ for individuals aged between 16 and 35 and who have a disability or long-term health condition. The donation will enable the programme to run for the next three years in multiple locations across the UK. Connecting people to their community in fun and engaging activities, designed around the interests of participants, helps build confidence and new skills. It also enables participants to take the next step towards their own goals. Those taking part can also gain a City & Guild certificate or an SQA Award by completing a 16hr Building Communities project.

Jessica Duong, 19, from Liverpool, took part in Wellbeing Can Do sessions over the last year and said:

“Can Do was fun. We did a Wellbeing Enterprise project and did different things like fitness and mindfulness sessions. I liked the sessions on relaxation and different ways to cope with stress. We did things I had never done before. I got new skills like designing the book, which looks really good. It was nice to meet new people too even if this was on Zoom.  

“I want to do childcare in the future. I might also be going to do a course at college next year and do a placement with children. I think doing Can Do has helped with my confidence and I am not as nervous about going somewhere else to do another course now. I also feel more confident with online stuff as this was new to me. I would definitely tell people to do it, I enjoyed it and the experience was good.”

Mencap will put people with a learning disability at the heart of Covid recovery planning and development of new ways of working in nine local communities across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Over three years, 36 people with a learning disability will be employed to lead activity that makes their community a better place to live. Supported by a community engagement worker, they will work with people in their local communities to lead social change and achieve better outcomes for the people with a learning disability who live there. More broadly, 2,700 community members, including others with a learning disability, will be involved in co-designing, developing and implementing local change initiatives.

Ciara Lawrence, who has a learning disability and is the Big Plan Engagement Lead at Mencap, said:

“This funding from the Covid-19 Support Fund is really great news! It will help people with a learning disability, like me, be seen and heard in their local communities.

“Many people with a learning disability have been forgotten during the pandemic. Mencap’s new community programme means they can take their place in society once again. It will also help communities to be more inclusive.

“It is great that people with a learning disability will carry out this programme because they know what changes they want to see to make their community the best place to live. It is about them and their voices.”

Colm Holmes, Chair of the Covid-19 Support Fund Governance Committee & Global CEO, General Insurance, Aviva said:

“Over the past year people with disabilities have endured long periods of isolation and seen a reduction or withdrawal in the services they rely on. We’re indebted to Leonard Cheshire and Mencap for their work and thrilled that this donation from the Covid-19 Support Fund will have a lasting impact for people with learning disabilities and their communities around the UK.”

Ruth Owen, Chief Executive of pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire, said:

“The pandemic has disproportionately taken its toll on disabled people and we now have an opportunity to begin working towards an inclusive recovery. 

“This significant donation enables us to continue funding Can Do, a community programme that offers opportunity at a time when disabled people need it most. We’d like to thank the Covid-19 support fund for enabling Leonard Cheshire to carry on nurturing inclusive communities across the UK.”

Edel Harris, Chief Executive of the learning disability charity Mencap, said:

“We’re thrilled to receive this generous donation from the Covid-19 Support Fund for this ground-breaking new programme, which puts people with a learning disability in the driving seat to make positive changes in their local communities after the pandemic.

“People with a learning disability have been hit hard during the coronavirus pandemic. Many people have faced huge health inequalities and spent a year stuck at home, cut off from their family or friends. In many cases, they have been left with no support at all.

“As we come out of lockdown, we want to make sure that people with a learning disability are not left behind. This programme will help empower them to be part of rebuilding their local community in a post-COVID-19 world. I’m excited to see what changes people with a learning disability lead and deliver as part of this programme to help make the UK a healthier and happy place for them, their friends and family and wider community.”