Fiona Wonford, GOLD Project Manager, and GOLD Support Workers Jean-Jacques Charles and Mandy Rackley are the GOLD Project team. They take time out to talk to us about their work, connecting with inspiring partners, and the future ambitions for the project.
Can you tell us about the GOLD project?
GOLD stands for Getting On with Learning Difficulties and the project is for people with a learning difficulty who receive under 5 hours of statutory support a week.
GOLD reduces social isolation and builds independence by running activities and supporting people with housing, benefits, form filling, and all the things people with a learning difficulty might struggle with but have nowhere to turn to for support. Some people come just a few times for help in a crisis, while others regularly attend our social groups.
GOLD has been funded by the National Lottery since 2015, although the grant has gradually reduced and now doesn’t cover all the costs, so we fundraise to supplement it.
Mandy, Jean-Jacques, and I formed the new GOLD team in early 2023. Despite a reduction in funds our plans for a sustainable future are bigger than ever, as we build on the great foundations from previous years.
How does community engagement contribute to GOLD?
Our project is dedicated to working with the local Thanet community and creating community connections. We provide information and opportunities to join local events and encourage community involvement. Many even become volunteers in the community, gaining valuable life skills helpful for future employment.
Currently, we are collaborating with the Tizard Centre and Kent University on a digital health project, exploring how people with a learning difficulty use computers to book appointments and access test results. As a result of this partnership an individual from GOLD is now a paid participant of this project for the next two and a half years.
What social clubs does GOLD offer?
The type of social activities include Movie Mondays, Thanet Thinkers (a social group that meets at Wetherspoons in Ramsgate), snooker club at Frames in Margate, Crafternoons, and GOLD Café at Foresters Hall in Ramsgate. We are also setting up a new Men’s Group. We bring the ideas and the people who attend GOLD decide what they want to do; the most important thing is that they are driving the story.
Building social interactions is a significant part of our weekly programme; the aim is to reduce social isolation, boost wellbeing and build self-esteem. People create strong friendships and, in some cases, form relationships within the group.
The ScrapStore in Ramsgate is part of the GOLD project, it repurposes and recycles craft materials which are sold to others and all proceeds benefit East Kent Mencap.
Tell us more about how individuals from GOLD are involved in The ScrapStore?
The ScrapStore is an opportunity for people who attend GOLD to volunteer and learn new skills, which is invaluable if they are seeking employment. They take care of the stock, learn how to use a till, and make shop displays that have an impact on sales.
My favourite part is seeing the positive interactions between the customers and individuals from GOLD. A positive conversation in The ScrapStore has also led to customers volunteering at our Crafternoon sessions.
How do you support people with their problems?
During our social groups, you get to know people well and hear their life stories, but it also gives people the chance to share a problem or worry. Sometimes it is hard for people to come straight out directly with a worry, but in a relaxed friendly atmosphere, it’s easier. It also allows us to ask if anyone else has had the same problem.
It can be just as valuable to hear advice from a peer; they are after all the ‘Experts by Experience’.
A GOLD member has recently been through significant life changes, and their emotions have been evident during our social groups. The GOLD community has supported this individual, extending their concerns with thoughtful gestures like checking in and making them a cup of tea. Being surrounded by caring friends has been life-changing for this person.
Can you share some of your future GOLD plans?
There are lots of exciting things in the pipeline. For example, we are looking at setting up a Book Club at a local library, which may also provide work experience opportunities. We are working with the NHS Engagement Team from Maidstone, organising talks from community nurses on subjects that are requested by people from GOLD. We are partnering with Kent Coast Volunteering to support individuals to have the confidence to volunteer and connect them with local volunteering opportunities.
It’s going to be a busy autumn, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Every day is a new opportunity to help someone and increase their wellbeing. We have a great laugh too!