Blog | Include.org

Designing a way through Covid19

One volunteer’s story.

How do you integrate with a new community and learn a new language when the world is in lockdown?

2020 was a strange and very hard year for many people living during the height of the global pandemic. Our very talented graphic design volunteer Christian was trying to settle in a new country at the same time.

We asked him about his experiences…

Finding Include

Before the pandemic took hold – I had moved to the UK from my country – that was January 2020.

At first it felt a bit strange to adapt to a different culture, a different language and I felt a little bit out of place at the beginning.

“A friend mentioned that volunteering would be a great way for me to start integrating with society, and I want to do something that makes a positive impact in people’s lives.

I looked on www.reachvolunteering.org.uk and that’s what I found when I found Include.

I saw other positions advertised, for example, there was one asking for a designer to design books like editorial things, but I wanted to do something that made a positive impact, felt fulfilling for me and allowed me to communicate with other people – not just be working in isolation behind a screen. And I think I found that by joining Include.”

Making Connections

“I think Include played a key role for people with communication needs in the height of Covid19, making them feel more connected, even though we weren’t allowed to be face to face.

I was also feeling isolated, so having the opportunity to have Zoom meetings and be working on something meaningful made me feel like I was getting my sense of belonging to a place – and that’s what I was looking for.

Before then I had barely spoken English.

I understood the grammar, the sentences and the structure because of my work in graphic design – all of the software is in English. And I enjoyed watching English-speaking TV shows with Graham Norton, for example. But I never had the chance to actually speak English until I moved and started volunteering.

I got to do so many meetings and things like that, I think it really helped a lot in developing my confidence with my speaking abilities.”

Creative Communication

At Include we’re always using different tools to enhance communication experiences for people.

Sometimes that can be using Makaton signing and visual objects of reference, but we also use technology and apps like Pictello and ProloQuo2Go to ensure everyone can get their message across.

During our chat for this blog Christian told us something we had never realised.

“I’m going to be honest, at the beginning when I joined Include, I used to copy emails I received and put them into a translate tool to check what it means in Spanish. Then I used to write my emails, first in the translator, and then put them in English, and then correct them because the tool is not 100%. And that’s how I leaned to adapt. Now I don’t need to do this, but it was important at that time.”

A new perspective

“Include has taught me how to be more respectful and mindful of other people’s needs that are different to mine. And always to be aware that even though people have different needs, at the end of the day, we’re all the same. We want to be understood, we want to communicate, we need and want to connect with other people. I think even though life presents many barriers, they can be overcome if you keep those things in mind.

From the perspective of graphic design, I feel like I’m more aware now and try to make designs more accessible for everybody.

I’ve also become aware of The Mental Capacity Act (MCA) during my time volunteering for Include.”

Welcomed with open arms

“Whenever I talk to people about Include, I tell them that it feels like a big family, like a big community. I got to join a few sessions with the choir members and other volunteers a few times. And I felt like I was welcomed with open arms by everyone, even though I wasn’t like a regular, they were very friendly to me.

People from Include have made me smile many times. But I think the one closest to my heart is when you sang and signed Happy Birthday to me – it was really nice.”

Serious subject:

chocolate and biscuits

There are some things about any society that you can only really learn about through social interaction. No text book or software will truly explain. Christian credits Include with teaching him about the important issues of chocolate and biscuits – or is it cake?!

There was a whole round in the Include virtual Christmas Quiz about chocolate! He says; “That was something new for me because I never thought that chocolate was such a serious subject – I enjoy it too of course! I know now that cups of tea and chocolate biscuits are also culturally significant. My favourite is the Yorkshire black tea with a little bit of soya milk.”

Then Christian dropped a bit of a bombshell!

He revealed that his favourite biscuit is…wait for it… Jaffa Cakes!

So, we had to have a chat about whether Jaffa Cakes are actually biscuits or cakes!?

Photo credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/scousesmurf/

Quite a contentious area as tax is charged on chocolate covered biscuits, but not on chocolate covered cakes. A Judge ruled in McVities favour during a legal case in 1991 – declaring that Jaffa Cakes are actually cakes!

I like to think his experience with Include has helped Christian maintain his open mind. Because he does concede; “Hmm it’s because of the texture, the consistency of the base I guess it’s like a bread or… (errr… is cake the word you are looking for Christian – ha!) yeah yeah, I can see that!”

Volunteering as a pathway to paid work

“Include has helped me to adjust to a different culture, working with British people, the way you work is a little bit different to where I used work. Include welcomed me with open arms and showed me how things work here. It gave me the confidence that I was able to produce high quality work that was also making a positive impact.

Include’s CEO Alix, is one of my professional references on my CV, so that is really helpful and means a lot to me because Alix is awesome. She’s so kind, patient and hard working. You know, it’s a lot of work running a charity and she’s a mom, too. It’s amazing how she does it.” And the admiration runs both ways.

Alix says; “Christian has been an absolute blessing to the organisation, from the moment he joined us. He brings a level of professionalism to everything that he does and right from the start (even when language was a challenge, which he hid so well) he came up with fresh and inventive ideas to help us really build a brand image for Include which we have never had the resources to do before.

Without him, I don’t believe we would have had the successful fundraising campaign we had with last year’s Big Give Challenge – or won their Small Charity Award. Christian, and other amazing volunteers like him, really do make a difference to people’s lives.”

Next big challenge

Christian has just started a new job. He says; “In the interview, I was asked to present any work I had done in the UK. And I presented about Include. I talked about The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2020, where we had a fundraising goal, and through our campaign we managed to double the money raised to £10,000. That was a highlight during my interview.”

Christian has kindly offered to stay involved with Include. We could not be more delighted! He has high hopes for Include…

“I’m hoping the choir can start to do some more public performances – it’s difficult because of the pandemic but gradually going back will reinforce the sense of belonging and being together. Travelling together and going to do a performance at a different place – those things make people feel more included in wider society, I think.

And although I have less time to volunteer, I’m going to try to help Include to raise even more money in The Big Give Christmas Challenge 2021. This year Include needs to raise £20,000 to expand their inclusive communication services to more people in more areas.”

We’d love to perform and deliver training up north again one day Christian – and you will be number 1 on our guest list. Thank you for all you do for us.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Include Choir Coordinator

Improve your listening skills…

Include is well know for Makaton signing and singing – another important skill that we try to teach and enhance is listening.

Our FREE Easy Read resource this month is about how to be a good listener. You can download it here:

It is so important to make sure people feel listened to and understood, especially if communication is not easy for that person.

Really listening to someone can make them feel good. It can really turn someone’s day around.

We spoke to one of our members Josh about why listening skills are so important.

We asked Josh because we have seen what a careful and patient listener he is in person and via Zoom, one to one, in a big group and as an interviewer. Josh’s top tip is:

“Don’t interrupt – it’s annoying – just listen.” He says “If you are in a big group wait your turn to speak, if you are on Zoom you can go on mute. When they have finished speaking you can reply.”

Josh thinks it is a good idea to make sure you have understood correctly – either by asking someone to repeat what they said, asking questions or saying back what you’ve heard.

We talked about how important it is to pay attention to non-verbal communication. And if you are talking to someone who is blind you need to remember that your own body language, smile, nod or Makaton won’t easily let them know that you are listening – you need to say something.

As well as listening to people speak, Josh loves listening to people singing in choirs – which is one reason he is a member of The Include Choir. One of the commitments all our choir members make is to “be good at listening” – these are lyrics in our Include Choir Agreement song, which is a code of conduct written by members.

Please let us know what you think of our resource – we’re ready to listen to your feedback.

Our guide is based partly on Samaritans’ SHUSH listening tips. You can learn more on their website at samaritans.org/shush

Our thanks also to www.changepeople.org for their Easy Read guide called What is Safeguarding.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Include Choir Coordinator

Sometimes we have cake…but we try to be healthy

When The Include Choir meets virtually or in person we often talk about food!

Last week we voted on whether we thought it was good to have pineapple on pizza – or not.

Quite a controversial topic!

Good nutrition matters

When we can meet up in-person we have snacks available, ranging from the very healthy like carrots and seaweed to treats like biscuits, and we’ll admit it…sometimes we have cake!

We take care to offer a range of food options. While food can be fun, we know that being healthy can be a challenge for people. We also know that sometimes it can become a serious issue for people with learning disabilities or autism.

“Good nutrition is vital to the health and wellbeing of people with learning disabilities, but they are more likely than the general population to be underweight or overweight/obese, in most cases due to lifestyle factors and not to causes inherent to their learning disabilities.”

LeDeR Programme Fact Sheet 28, 2019

Free Resource about being Healthy

During Healthy Eating Week this June we know quite a few of our members have been paying special attention to what they eat. Well done everyone.

Our Choir Rep Hannah has worked alongside our volunteer Sofia to produce a free Easy Read resource about being healthy. We hope this will be useful to other people too.

We are producing one free Easy Read resource each month for a year as we explained in our blog last month.

A bit about our role model

Hannah is a very active member of The Include Choir.

She works hard to get the balance right between having fun and enjoying food and being healthy.

During lockdown she has been exercising at home and sometimes shows us what she has been baking.

Hannah keeps track of all her activities on a weekly planner.

One way she keeps fit while having fun is doing Bolly X, a fitness class inspired by Bollywood dance.

Hannah works in a supermarket where she can get free recipe cards and she also subscribed to Easy Cook magazine. One of her favourite recent bakes was Cinnamon Bun Muffins – don’t they sound delicious?! Her favourite healthy snack is melon.

Hannah says; “It’s ok to have some unhealthy stuff but not every day. It’s a good idea to look at the back, at the ingredients, to see how much sugar is in it.”

Hannah knows that what she drinks is important too. She likes cranberry juice (cranberry light) and also drinks about 6 cups of water a day.

We hope our free Easy Read resource inspires you to try one of Hannah’s ideas…

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Include Choir Coordinator

A Square Peg in a Pandemic-shaped hole

Reflections of a Small Charity CEO after an unprecedented year

‘Oh crumbs’ (or words to that effect), ‘this Covid-19 situation really is serious’ was roughly the thought crossing my mind as I arranged an emergency meeting of Trustees on Sunday 15th March 2020.

 

What were we going to do? 

We’d already put some measures in place at the end of February to try to keep people safe at our choir rehearsals (hand sanitiser / writing a song about how to keep safe etc). We had cancelled an event taking place in a care home. Which, knowing what we know now, was absolutely the right move. 

But by 15th March there was a strong sense that we needed to go further.

So, pre-lockdown, I faced my technophobic fears and we moved our weekly Wednesday evening choir sessions to Facebook Live (instead of gathering at our usual venue in Redhill). There was a huge sense of uncertainty about this, would we be able to continue supporting and connecting people, would our members come with us, would people still need Include ‘on a screen’? We just didn’t know.

 

Increased demand

As it turned out, the answer to all of those questions was yes. Even pre-pandemic, many of our existing members were at risk of feeling isolated from parts of society, due to the unequal experience of people with learning disabilities or autism. 

Then, on top of this and the national lockdowns, many members are shielding and/or face restrictions on visitors to supported living or residential settings. Others moved homes to families, leaving friends and routines behind. 

Now was not the time to reduce what our charity offered. 

Instead, we had to adapt and support more vulnerable people to adapt too, so they didn’t become more isolated or anxious. We asked Include Choir members what they ideally wanted and when. We increased services, volunteer and staff numbers, and we committed to deliver what they needed through platforms like Zoom and Facebook for free, for as long as possible. Which was far longer than any of us expected. 

At times, it has felt like hammering square pegs into round holes.

 

Juggling blindfolded

As a speech and language therapist, and former NHS safeguarding adults lead with 2 small children, I thought I was used to juggling multiple priorities, wading through bureaucratic quagmires, having difficult conversations and making challenging decisions. I’d already discovered that founding and running a charity (with 2 small children) was akin to juggling flaming torches blindfolded, while spinning plates and balancing a trifle on your nose…

…and now, a pandemic? 

 

All the feelings

Having to make decisions about a situation where the information is unclear, the support to understand it limited and the consequences uncertain has been uniquely unsettling. 

Having to shout so loudly to ensure our charity’s voice was heard and supported amongst the clamouring of so many in need, exhausting. 

Feeling utterly powerless to control the direction of travel or be anything other than reactive to the situation left me feeling, at times, utterly despairing of ever making progress in long-held plans. 

The sense of loss – it has felt so sad and uncomfortable that a key part what we are and love to do (sing together) has been under scrutiny and deemed high risk.

It felt, in short, as I imagine it often feels to be a person with a cognitive communication impairment (understanding and speaking difficulties). This is how many of our members (and some of their family members) tell us that life before and during the pandemic makes them feel:

confused

intimidated by the world

not listened to 

powerless to change things

frustrated

judged

 

 And yet…

Looking back over the last year, what has struck me is not the fear, the anxiety, the frustration (don’t get me wrong, all those things were there in abundance) but what was notable from our members, (and our volunteers and staff) was the resilience, the determination – and the ability to rise above expectations and external limitations to connect and create something beautiful for one another, showing what is possible when we can create the right fit for everyone. 

 

Alix Lewer
Alix Lewer

Sofia’s Story

Meet Sofia…

Sofia is a volunteer for the Include Choir, and helps with a bit of everything! She says “My favourite song is I’m a Believer because I love signing it, and it’s one that makes everyone really happy and gets us dancing!”

“Before lockdown, I supported members during choir rehearsals and meetings, helped record videos of songs and the Makaton ‘Sign of the Week’, gathered members’ news for the newsletter, and helped with refreshments!” Says Sofia… “And now I do lots of other things to support the choir online”.

Sofia’s Include Story

Sofia who is a college student, joined the choir a few years ago when she needed volunteering hours to complete her Duke of Edinburgh award. She chose the Include Choir as she thought it would be fun and rewarding, and hoped she could continue volunteering after completing the award.

“I don’t consider myself a singer, but I enjoy singing with the Include Choir as I like the feeling of inclusion and unity that singing together can give to members. When the volunteers like me and support workers sing with the choir members, it makes everyone feel equal and together” says Sofia.

Since joining the choir, Sofia has learnt some Makaton signing, and plans to complete her Level 1 training as soon as possible.

Why is the Include Choir Special to Sofia?

Before joining the Include Choir, Sofia felt she knew about learning disabilities, but feels now she has a much better understanding of them.

“I feel the choir has helped me to gain more well-rounded knowledge about disability and how it can affect people, which has been really interesting.

The Include Choir is pretty cool, as everyone is involved and no-one gets left out.

The people make the Include Choir so special. The members, volunteers, Alix, and everyone are so amazing.”

Sofia says that meetings and rehearsals are different every time because of all the people in the choir which makes them exciting – “you don’t know what’s going to happen, it’s always a surprise!” But one thing you do know – there will be fun. ‘Our choir members are our biggest fans – they sing and dance and they love the choir so much.’

One of Sofia’s favourite moments with the Include Choir is when she was nominated to receive an award of recognition for the choir from the local Mayor. The event was very posh, but she had a lot of fun!

How Sofia stepped up in lockdown

Since lockdown, Sofia has been meeting up with the choir online regularly and organising things behind the scenes.

“I attend the Facebook Lives on Wednesdays, Zoom meetings on Fridays and Saturdays, and I’ve been working on various online projects for Include, such as the Black Lives Matter project. I have also helped create a monthly Include Choir magazine, which is being sent to choir members who have trouble accessing online information, to keep them in the loop and help them feel more connected” She says.

Final Word from Sofia

“People should join the choir to gain a better understanding of other people, and to see that people with disabilities are not that different. The choir and the people in it are awesome!

I really enjoy it and couldn’t ask for anything better. Being a part of the choir has been really cool so far, and I would love to help it grow as it continues. I hope our Big Give fundraiser in December can help us keep going for years to come”.

Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Include Choir Coordinator

David’s Story

David sings and plays percussion with The Include Choir. His favourite song is Somewhere Over the Rainbow.

He loves the enthusiasm of the choir and says; “It makes me feel good – the people are what makes The Include Choir special”.

His Include story…

Since joining The Include Choir David has learnt to play the cajón – a box shaped procession instrument after he got one for Christmas a couple of years ago.

David joined The Include Choir in June 2016 after a recommendation from one of his support workers, Julie. He already knew he loved music and sung in the choir at his church. And he liked the idea of meeting new people, including some people with learning disabilities.

David’s best experience with The Include Choir so far was going to the Mini & BMW factory in Oxford. The choir traveled there by minibus and performed at an Empowerment Conference for Oxfordshire. There was an opportunity to walk around the museum afterwards. The event organiser loved it too, she told the choir; ‘I wish you every success in the future, the Include Choir are truly amazing’!

Saying connected through Covid19

During lockdown David has not been able to sing at church or in person with The Include Choir. But he has linked-up with the choir on Facebook and Zoom – he says that it’s felt good to keep that connection and routine. He hasn’t been able to do much else during lockdown and really looks forward to the weekly sessions.

David joins the choir’s “Tea Break” socials on Zoom on Saturday mornings. He likes hearing what other people are doing and sharing his own news and views. And he really looks forward to the weekly Facebook Live sessions and joins in with the wide variety of songs.

David’s Dad says “We, as parents, are very grateful to The Include Choir for supporting and encouraging David over the difficult time we have all had over during the lockdown period. The Include Choir has enabled David to show and develop his talents at singing and playing”.

Even when he and his family were on holiday at a campsite in Cambridgeshire, David joined the Facebook Live session via his iPad and used the camper van’s grill pan as improvised percussion!

David and his family have learnt a lot about about recordings during lockdown so David can contribute to the choir’s weekly songs (shared on YouTube ) about the Makaton sign of the week – they even bought a new microphone!

The Bicycle Song!! https://youtu.be/y79rDhdBpFA

Final word from David…

“People should watch the choir’s videos on YouTube or join the Facebook session to get a really good idea about the choir and see if they would like to join us”.


Penny Sims
Penny Sims
Include Choir Coordinator
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