During Learning Disability Week, we are shining a light on the challenges of reconnecting with friends and communities.
Our Love4Life friendship and dating network offered a lifeline to autistic people and people with learning disabilities during lockdown and beyond. We spoke to Love4Life manager Hayley about the changes she saw in members after moving from online events during the pandemic to in-person activities again.
Hayley said: “People’s social skills had deteriorated. At events, less people were talking to each other, and were on their phones more. Anxiety was at an all-time high, so the team worked really hard to overcome this.
“We held communication workshops, talking to members about how to make friends and how to have a conversation. We also have conversation starter cards which we take to events to help get the ball rolling.
“The key thing throughout this was reassurance, some members needed less and took to socialising again really quickly, and others needed more which was fine too.
“Since then, we’ve seen a huge improvement. Members are mingling more than they did pre-pandemic, more friendships have been made and people seem more open about who they spend their time with.”
For us it was about recognising those who needed more help and making sure we provided all the support we could.
One couple who have gone from strength to strength since restrictions eased are Taylor and Ryan, who began dating when they were able to meet up in person again.
Hayley said: “Like so many people, Taylor struggled a lot with anxiety after the pandemic, she was nervous about going out and was scared she would catch covid. We worked a lot with checking in on Taylor and supporting her to feel less anxious, and soon after she went on her first date with Ryan.
“In March this year they got engaged which is incredible news, and in April they celebrated their engagement by going on their first holiday together to Florence. It was Taylor’s first ever holiday without her mum which was a huge step for her, and something she wouldn’t have had the confidence to do a year ago.
Taylor was very nervous coming out of lockdown, but now she is living independently and going on holidays with her fiancé – we couldn’t be happier for her.
Taylor said: “Ryan and I were friends for a while, and after lockdown we started dating. Ryan is really kind and funny, it was a really good first date.
“We went to Florence on our first holiday together a few months ago and oh my goodness it was amazing. We also looked at loads of sights like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and we met Ryan’s Italian family who live out there. They were really nice.
“The holiday definitely brought us closer together, and it was the first holiday without my mum. I was nervous at first but I knew I would have to do it at some point and it was great to go with Ryan. Love4Life has definitely helped me build up my confidence to do things like that.”