It’s too often the case that people with learning disabilities and mental health needs can find themselves excluded from their local communities.

It’s common for these groups to mix only with their families, paid support workers and people with similar needs to their own, which means they can miss out on the opportunity to feel connected to their local community.

United Response’s Cheriton Community Network in Kent tackles this problem with warmth, humour and imagination. By creating a friendly, inclusive community space on Cheriton High Street, our team in Folkestone have brought the community to the people we support, and broken down many of the barriers that stop them from enjoying a varied and meaningful social life.

The only rule for setting up a regular meeting or workshop in the space is that no group should be excluded. Anyone who is interested in an activity or workshop - from the craft club and meditation group to line dancing and open mic nights - must be allowed to participate.

You can find out more about all the Network's events on their Facebook page and Twitter feed.

Meaningful inclusion

When I visited the Network on a bright summer day, it was a hive of activity, with people we support, United Response staff and members of the local community busily making preparations for a Community Fun Day they were organising for the local community.

Some people were practising making balloon animals to hand out on the day, while others created decorations or passed around homemade biscuits that one of the United Response team had brought in to fuel the workers. Everyone was chatting, smiling, laughing and working together on a shared goal in a way that few local communities do in our increasingly disconnected world.

This was just a half-hour snippet of the genuine and meaningful social inclusion we have created through our work in Kent. United Response’s Community Network in Cheriton benefits the wider community as well as the people we support there, slowly dismantling the social divisions that can lead to isolation and unhappiness.

Combating social isolation

The idea is a simple one, but it works: welcome anyone in the community into a safe, friendly space where some of the people we support spend some time, and they will all become part of a wider, more accepting community.

We would love to do more work like this around the UK to make sure that no one we support feels isolated or lonely. Please make a donation to do more work like this, and help us make the lives of the people we support as meaningful as possible.

Helen Didymus-True, head of web and digital media

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