Having always been involved in community and volunteer projects, I have never really questioned just how important they actually are to local communities. I feel that I have perhaps always taken for granted the fact that on my doorstep I had a fantastic array of groups and clubs that from a young age I was a part of. But this has not always been the case for everyone, especially for Adults with Learning Disabilities. My recent participation in the “Beat it” music group in Leeds has made me realise just how valuable and important it is to have a range of community activities that are accessible for all.
The sessions are all inclusive and with the wide variety of instruments available anyone can take part regardless of physical ability. I have always believed that music is a form of communication that transcends barriers of language; regardless of ability, music can allow for us to understand one another and to express ourselves in ways that can make others understand how we are feeling. This motivated my involvement in the project. On asking members of the group why they enjoyed coming so much, the answers ranged from learning new musical skills to meeting with friends and socialising. Many of them were involved in other art and music projects through different charity groups. So it got me thinking; if services had not developed in such a way, what would be the alternative?
The “mixed economy of care” was established after the NHS and Community Care act 1990, which introduced the idea that services did not just have to be provided by the Local Authority, offering an opportunity for other providers to issue alternative services. But even though “Beat it” is a fantastic example of the varied and exciting services that people can become involved with, there remains to be a deficit of such projects. For a lot of the people who attend “Beat it” and similar groups, without dedicated people or the funds for transport to and from these group many would not be able to attend. These services although successful are not necessarily widely available and can mean that people are travelling a significant distance to attend. Without the availability of such transport, many would be left at home without access to social groups, or instead, slotted into an existing day service provider that does not necessarily meet their needs; it’s just available to them and accessible. But that is not the be all and end all of what a service should be.
Regardless of ability, services need to be readily available that cater not only to a wide variety of needs, but a variety of wants and aspirations. People should be given the opportunity to decide for themselves what they do and do not want to be involved in. If they want to learn a musical instrument, meet with friends or learn new skills then they should be afforded this opportunity, just like everyone else.
The “social model of disability” is a theory that I believe best embodies what the likes of “Beat it” strive to achieve. For disability is not about the person and their perceived degree of ability. It is about the barriers to inclusion that society creates by seeing the individual as different. But isn’t everyone different in their own way? We all struggle from time to time with certain things, so why is it that because we are deemed to be “able” society is to be more accepting of us and ready to assist us? Surely this is a philosophy that should apply to us all? Through “Beat it”, and many other fantastic projects like it I hear all about through the attendees, we are breaking down the barriers that are put up by society and challenging societal perceptions of what they believe may or may not be achievable for certain people.
So not only is “Beat it” a fantastic resource for the community in terms of what it gives to those who attend, it also alongside other projects like it, strives to challenge the barriers that are created by society by empowering people through offering choice, inclusion and the right to decide what they want to be involved in; not simply slotting into a system that already exists. Because think about it, how would you feel if you had no choice about where you worked, or what you did in your spare time? It would feel pretty restrictive don’t you think? Would you be happy to accept it? I don’t think so.
Unfortunately barriers still exist that prevent people accessing such resources; cuts to budgets and transport programmes especially have resulted in making services more difficult to access. But I do hear regularly of more services like “Beat it” developing across the area. It shows a step in the right direction, a step towards delivering truly personalised care and support and for allowing people to have that seemingly elusive control over their lives.
I’m not saying that everyone should be attending “Beat it” because it is a fantastic service with a fantastic atmosphere (which it is). I’m saying that people should be given the right to choose which services they want to access, on their terms in their own time. In this respect, it is projects like “Beat it” which demonstrate what personalisation is all about; the right to choose, to have a go and then decide whether or not you want to stay involved.
So if you feel like you want to try something new why not give it a try; you never know, you might just like it.