Portsmouth’s Learning Disability Service celebrate and reflect after unprecedented times

Portsmouth’s Integrated Learning Disability Service recently celebrated the resilience shown through the pandemic after a challenging 18+ months for the team, its providers and its service users and carers.

The service currently supports over 750 adults with a learning disability in the Portsmouth area and offers specialist services to enable and support them to participate in daily activities and increase or maintain levels of independence.

Based at the Kestrel Centre in the Civic Offices, the service is run by Portsmouth City Council in partnership with Solent NHS Trust. Being an integrated service means service users can access support with both health and social care needs rather than needing to be referred to multiple services. This joined up, partnership working is a result of the Health and Care Portsmouth project which has changed the way health and social care services are delivered in the city.

The pandemic impacted the face-to-face services the team usually provide but they continued to stay in regular contact with service users via phone calls and video calls to check they were ok and offer support, including with getting their vaccinations.

Some of the service users carry out volunteer roles within the service; this might be doing office-related tasks at the Kestrel Centre, or as volunteer trainers delivering presentations about the service.

Pete is one of the volunteer trainers for the service; his work had to stop during the pandemic. To begin with he received weekly phone calls and/or texts from the facilitators of his volunteer role. Pete had voiced that he missed seeing everyone and being able to make jokes. This prompted the facilitators to arrange fortnightly video calls via Microsoft Teams for the volunteer trainers’ group. Pete said he really enjoyed these and was able to return to the friendly and jokey person he usually is.

Pete is now back to doing his volunteer role and is currently delivering presentations virtually. He explains it’s “not the same feeling as when you do face-to-face.”

Bob is also a service user and volunteer trainer. Describing his role, Bob explains he gives presentations to different groups including colleges and tells them about the Learning Disability Service. He enjoys talking to people in his role and missed this during the pandemic.

Both Pete and Bob were included in a project run by the Learning Disability Service this summer – they were given their own tablet and training on how to use it. Both have enjoyed learning how to use the devices. Several years ago, Pete had said that he didn’t want to use a computer at all, so feels he has come a long way since then.

Service users including Pete and Bob, along with the many staff who make up the service attended a celebration event on Wednesday 13 October at Portsmouth’s Central Library. This was an opportunity for the service to reflect on their experiences through the pandemic and to celebrate the fantastic work that’s continued despite the challenges faced.

Service users, their families and carers and the staff from across the service enjoyed tea and cake as they enjoyed being able to meet face-to-face again. Catering was provided by the Lily & Lime café based in Portsmouth Central Library, which is run as a training enterprise for people with learning disabilities.

Suzannah Rosenberg, Chief Operating Officer (Portsmouth) at Solent NHS Trust speaking at the event, said: “It’s the only service that would open up to service users and have this many attend, which is testament to the work the service does.”

“It’s a seamless service. Service users don’t have to go to one place then another – it’s a result of health and social care services being joined up.”

Cllr Fazackarley, Cabinet Member for Health, Wellbeing & Social Care at Portsmouth City Council, said “Our services have faced new challenges during the pandemic and have shown outstanding resilience and dedication in the face of these, embracing new ways of working in order to be able to support service users safely.”