NOW Group in Belfast seems to do everything right. The social enterprise has used funding from Big Lottery Fund to bring people with learning disabilities together in new ways. They have also supported people to make big differences to their lives through a few key initiatives.
At the beginning of their Unify Best Practice project in 2008, supported by Big Lottery Fund’s Live and Learn programme, NOW Group got in touch with people with learning disabilities from all over Belfast and invited them to meet up.
“Adults with learning difficulties tend to be very isolated,” said Pauline Fitzsimons, head of services at NOW Group. “Some of them had lost confidence or didn’t have any social interaction at all.”
Five years on, the social group, Kidnap Wednesday, still meets every Wednesday afternoon at the Black Box to chat and discuss ideas to make life better for their community.
“Many had stories of problems using public services or in shops. Gabriel Murray, had a bad experience using a bus. He got off to look at the bus number every few stops to check he was on the right one. The bus driver didn’t realise he had a learning disability and drove off and left him. He didn’t know where he was. So he lost confidence and wouldn’t take a bus alone any more.”
The Kidnap Wednesday group decided they wanted a discreet way to show they need a little time and patience. They came up with the JAM (Just A Minute) card.
The JAM card intiative was launched in 2012 and spread rapidly across Belfast, over 300 hundred businesses and public services including Cityside Shopping Centre and Translink supporting the scheme. In March this year the scheme launched in Fermanagh.
It has made a real difference to Gabriel Murray, who is happy to use public transport again.
“I hand the card to the bus driver and he waits until I pay for my ticket,” he said. “I’m more confident using public transport now because of the JAM Card.”
Pauline Fitzsimons said she is very impressed with the Kidnap Wednesday members’ idea:
“They recognized the problem and came up with solution, and it is far better than anything we could have come up with. We’re not the experts. They are the experts in living with a learning disability.”
Funding manager Jerome Grace, said he is very proud that Big Lottery Fund supports NOW Group: “NOW Group is a brilliant example of beneficiaries being at the heart of an organisation. The staff are passionate about giving people with learning disabilities a voice, and opportunities to shape their own future and follow their dreams.”
Other NOW Group services:
• Training Service – a range of accredited qualifications for people with learning disabilities, difficulties and those on the autistic spectrum.
• Employment Service – to help people with learning disabilities get the job they want and keep it.
• Transition Service – providing life experience and work experience for young people leaving school
• Volunteering Service – for people wanting to share their skills with NOW’s service users and help make a difference.
• Financial Capability –including Money For Life and Prepare for Work programmes
• Loaf Catering – An outside catering and café business, including Belfast City Hall’s Bobbin Coffee Shop. A new Loaf café and bakery will open in June on the site of the old Oak Bar Grosvenor Road.
• The Hive – opened in August 2014. It is based on Grosvenor Road, it’s a safe, inclusive space for NOW Group’s Training, Volunteer and Transition members to engage and learn.
• Gauge NI –helps organisations across the public, private and third sector to understand, measure and communicate their social impact. Like Loaf, Gauge NI’s profits are reinvested back into the work of NOW Group.
For more info visit: http://www.nowproject.co.uk/