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Charity run by disabled team supports people struggling with mental health

The team and volunteers at Access Dorset
The team and volunteers at Access Dorset Image credit:

A charity in the West Country run by people with disabilities is offering support to those struggling with their mental health.

Volunteers at Access Dorset arrange activities to improve wellbeing, vocational training and helping people set targets so they can achieve their goals.

Development manager Dave Thompson told Mirror Online: “We’re very much led by our membership. We’re all about empowering, enabling and giving a voice to people who face barriers to inclusion. Rather than feeling sorry for ourselves as disabled people, we are proud of who we are.”

Activity co-ordinator Belinda Reay is one of the team at Access Dorset, which also offers financial support to people with money difficulties.

“A lot of the volunteers in the cafe are younger, while most of our customers are older, so you get that beautiful connection where people who were isolated start chatting,” she explained.

“One of our members was shielding during lockdown – she’s in her early thirties, and her boyfriend and football season ticket are her life. Then suddenly she had to stay home, and she found the isolation really hard. We maintained contact, but there’s such a difference now she’s able to come out and volunteer and get involved in activities again.”

Access Dorset has received funding from the People’s Health Trust, using money raised by The Health Lottery.

“That money has been absolutely wonderful,” Belinda said. “Last year was an isolating time for everyone, and I think it kind of brought loneliness into everyone’s life – which is what someone who is disabled faces every day. With the money raised through The Health Lottery, we were able to run more sessions that our members have asked for, such as the exercise classes.

“We also hired a facilitator to run art sessions, and we’ve got some plans for summer socials. Our members mentioned that there weren’t a lot of options for safe evening activities, so we’ve got a DJ, a sports night and a barbecue coming up.”

Without the fundraising places like Access Dorset would struggle to survive, something Dave is very aware of.

“The funding is crucial – and the fact that it will last over two years is incredibly important to us,” he said. “These activities can be absolutely vital in keeping people going. A big issue over this past year has been mental health and we’re getting feedback from our members that having something to focus on a regular basis was essential.”

Another volunteer at Access Dorset, Rob Picken, highlighted the importance of the charity.

Rob Picken is a volunteer with Access Dorset. “We’ve got various projects, such as cooking and building,” he explained. “My main role is to support and encourage others, and try and get them to come out of their shells. To say, ‘You can do this.’

“Volunteering is so rewarding, and everybody’s so supportive. It’s like one big, happy family. We have mental health sessions on a Friday, where we check in and see how everybody’s doing and if someone’s having a bad day we can help them through it. Speaking from experience, I’m one of those people you really have to poke with a stick to get them to talk, so it’s important not to push people and let them open up at their own pace.”

The Health Lottery runs five weekly draws on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.