Challenging social isolation: Disability charity seeks to open doors into the community this Christmas The negative effect that social isolation can have on the wellbeing and health of certain groups in society - such as older people living alone - has been widely recognised. But far less well-documented is the impact of loneliness on people with disabilities and mental health needs. National disability charity United Response is seeking to change that this Christmas through a campaign to highlight the barriers that many people with disabilities and mental health needs experience when looking to build relationships and links in their local communities. Importantly, the campaign also aims to show how these can be overcome and to demonstrate how each of us can make a difference to isolated and vulnerable people. Recent research conducted by United Response amongst the people that it supports and family members shows that many people feel very positive about being involved in their local community. It is an experience which is mutually beneficial in terms of both giving and receiving help. Seventy percent of survey respondents knew the names of the majority of their neighbours and a further seventy-five percent of people referred to mixing with other people, doing things together and feeling involved in the community. It was also clear that many regard the support they receive as a key enabler in terms of their community involvement. Many commented on the fact having a support worker with them gave them confidence to get involved in new things. However, the research also reveals that weekends and bank holidays – such as Christmas - are often when people feel the loneliest, as these are times when community facilities and groups are often closed and there are fewer planned activities. “Weekends, bank holidays are the loneliest times I find as everything shuts down and unless you are quite mobile, have a car and can get out and about, you might not see anyone at these times”. Respondents also identified three key barriers which they felt prevent them and others from having a greater involvement in their community, either individually or with support: A general lack of understanding about disability, and unfriendliness. Communication barriers; people are unsure how to communicate with someone with a disability. Poor transport links, which makes it very difficult for people to get out and about and connect with others. So, as the festive season swings into action, United Response wants to raise awareness of these issues and to show how people with disabilities and mental health needs can become agents of change in their communities. Diane Lightfoot, Director of Communication and Fundraising at United Response said: “Many of the people we support have told us that building long-term friendships and being involved in their local community is most important to them and yet they are often the hardest things to achieve. We hope that our campaign this Christmas will increase understanding, as well as highlight the importance of local involvement and the difference that people with disabilities and mental health needs can make in the community, when they are given the opportunity to do so.” Alongside the campaign, United Response has also launched an appeal to raise funds to enable the people it supports to take part in and lead small events and projects to build lasting relationships in their local community, whilst at the same time increasing understanding about the needs of people with disabilities and/or mental health needs. Find out more about the different projects and the appeal. To encourage everyone to make a difference in their local communities this Christmas, United Response has also launched its Community Advent Calendar. The calendar includes 24 simple ways in which everyone can get to know their neighbours and people in need in their local area. Everyday up until Christmas, United Response will also be publishing a daily advent blog highlighting ways that people can get involved in their local community and sharing stories from the people it supports.