Milton Keynes’ learning disabled residents reach new heights

Published on 29/03/2022

Vulnerable adults living in Milton Keynes are being supported to live a ‘life without limits’ after two years spent in lockdown.

A host of physical activities – from yoga, dance and cricket to horse riding and rock climbing – are helping to increase physical activity, social engagement and mental stimulation for learning-disabled people living in the community.

The fun and varied sessions are run by local charity, MK SNAP, and funded by Sport England’s Together Fund, awarded by charitable housing association and national partner, L&Q.

Katie James, Grants and Project Coordinator at MK SNAP, said:

“To be able to transport our learners somewhere different for the day and give them the opportunity to do something they’ve never done before is amazing.”

“It’s a real adventure for them, especially after being restricted in their movements for so long. The excitement and confidence they bring back with them is extraordinary,” Katie continued.

The damaging side-effects of lockdown – long periods of isolation, a loss of routine and social interaction – triggered a deterioration in wellbeing for many of the centre’s learners.

Katie said: “During the pandemic the wellbeing of many of our learners deteriorated. We did our best to move our offer online by hosting virtual meetups and supporting people to access the internet. But when the learners arrived back, once restrictions had ended, the diminishment in their confidence and sociability was clear to see.”

In extreme cases, learners began to lose life skills, which impacted negatively on the independence they had worked so hard to gain. Nine months down the line, the return of a vital lifeline has reversed much of this decline.

“We’re now seeing routines and friendships picking up again. Our learners are rekindling relationships with people they haven’t seen in years”, Katie continued.

Part of what makes MK SNAP so unique is the broad age range of people it supports. Welcoming individuals aged 18-80 enables the charity to reach people who would ordinarily “slip through the net”.

Katie said: “There are multiple barriers and challenges to enabling people with learning disabilities to access work, live independently and take part in physical activities and sport.

“Thanks to the support of L&Q, Sport England and the National Lottery Fund, this project is opening up so many opportunities and choices for learners of all ages”, Katie continued.

MK SNAP has been transforming the prospects of people with a learning disability since 1992. What began as a modest unit at Kiln Farm, with just 9 learners accessing job training and support, has evolved into a £2.6m multi-purpose centre offering a vast curriculum of 22-course subjects. The addition of a café and garden has launched learners into a new world of catering, hospitality and gardening, opening the doors to a number of careers in these industries.

Most of the centre’s users live with family or in supported housing and are referred through schools and social services.

Matt Corbett, Director of L&Q Foundation, said:

”People with a learning disability are among the most stigmatised, disadvantaged and excluded in society. The pandemic has further exacerbated these inequalities, with services reduced, paused or even withdrawn in some areas.”

"At the heart of our ethos is the belief that by promoting connections, people are able to grow, learn and live their best lives. We’re delighted to hear that MK SNAP’s activity programme is helping people to do just that, through opportunities that enrich the lives of local people."