Two weeks ago, I travelled up to United Response’s Oakfield Day Service in Liverpool to meet support workers and people we support, and take part in a workshop to kick off a new Postcards from the Edges campaign board.

Postcards from the Edges is a creative project, started in 2013, where people affected by disability can express what matters most to them by decorating postcards with artwork, poetry, stories, collages or messages. Topics have ranged from relationships and work to challenges and change.

This week, we are launching a new Postcards from the Edges board to run alongside our Every Vote Counts campaign, which aims to get more people with learning disabilities to the voting booth in May. This time, the question we want contributors to answer is: ‘What are your hopes and fears for the General Election?’ To gather some postcards ready for the board’s launch, I decided to visit one of our most active and creative services: Oakfield.

Getting stuck in

The 20 people-strong workshop included People First Merseyside members of the Road Ahead group, a Big Lottery-funded project for young people with learning disabilities, and the Sefton group, as well as 8 people with different types of disabilities – from autism to Down’s syndrome – who are supported by the Oakfield Day Service.

As a member of the London-based web and digital team, it was a real treat to get away from my desk and see our support in action. Having said that, I was nervous about speaking to people with different kinds of learning difficulties – something I’d never done before – because I didn’t want to make the aims of the workshop sound too complicated or, on the other hand, talk down to people.

I needn’t have worried, however, because Oakfield support workers Veronica and Steve are veterans of clear communication. Veronica ran the workshop with aplomb, getting people talking and drawing out those who were shyer (like me!). In no time everyone was openly discussing which political issues they were concerned about and what they hoped would change after the election

Once we all knew what we wanted to say on our postcards, out came the art materials – paint, coloured pens and pencils, glue, stickers, gems, magazines (for collages) – and we all got stuck in.

Support worker Steve helps the Road Ahead group's Katrina and Kyle get started

A meaningful experience

I was really impressed by the breadth of issues covered and the range of postcards produced during the two-hour session. But what moved me most was seeing how Veronica and Steve supported the attendees, and helped me to support and get to know them. At first, I was unsure what I should do, but Veronica told me to roll up my sleeves and help Paddy, who has a learning disability and problems with his eyesight, to make his cards.

Paddy and I begin decorating his first postcard

Working with Paddy for just a couple of hours opened my eyes to the resourcefulness and patience of our support workers.

I also found that people with learning disabilities are just like anyone else – they are just as passionate, intelligent, informed, outspoken, opinionated and funny, but a lot more straightforward. If Paddy didn’t like the drawings I was doing on his behalf, he pointed this out in a no-nonsense tone and we moved right on to trying something else; conversely, his pride when we had finished was the most sincere I have ever encountered.

I really enjoyed meeting Paddy: a stand-up guy

Lessons learned

All of the contributors had a knack for summing up political issues and drilling down to the root of what really matters, be it feeling safe, not having to worry about money, being healthy or getting the chance to work, live alone or have a relationship.

Three people we support, Brian, Jean and Stephen, show off their postcards

I came away from Oakfield Day Service believing that if everyone were as honest, frank and open as the people I met during the workshop, we’d all get along much better – and probably get a lot more done!

Thank you so much to Veronica for letting me take part in the session, People First Merseyside and all the wonderful people we support for coming along, and my colleague Anna for taking all the brilliant photos and chronicling the day.

Keep your eyes peeled this week for the official launch of the new Postcards from the Edges General Election-themed board – featuring all the fab cards created by people we support at Oakfield. Why not start thinking about your own expectations for the coming election? What do you want to tell your local MP?

Laura Cook, web and digital communications assistant.