Loneliness and isolation are common themes in society of late. Following the publication of the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission’s report, the issues were brought to the fore by the Government, with subsequent formation of the Minister for Loneliness post. These are clearly positive steps, especially as we know people with a learning disability tend to have fewer opportunities to socialise than the general population. However, as Anna-Marie Garbutt highlights in her blog, there are some people for whom support or services are not always appropriate, and they might find themselves with fewer social connections. Despite best intentions there is no easy solution, however Anna-Marie’s Bee Together project in Leeds is a great initiative aiming to connect local stakeholders and services so that people have more social opportunities within their local areas.

Do take a look and see if you have any ideas!
– Sian Anderson, Membership and Services Officer


Bee Together is a two-year project forming part of the National Lottery funded Ageing Better-Fulfilling Lives Programme throughout the UK. Money has been given to 14 areas; in Leeds the fund is named Time to Shine and is combatting loneliness and social isolation in the over 50’s.

Bee Together is different in the fact it is aimed at Older People with a Learning Disability (OPLD). I want to find the lonely and socially isolated, listen to their story and then hopefully signpost them to organisations able to help them overcome any difficulties. There are only a handful of groups throughout the UK with this target audience so the work I am doing is important, giving a voice to this under-represented group.

Finding socially isolated and lonely people is difficult but factor in a learning disability and it makes it much harder.

I am partnered with two organisations in Leeds, Aspire Community Benefit Society (formerly Adult Social Care for Leeds) and Purple Patch Arts who offer education based creative workshops. I have spoken to people there who despite being supported do feel lonely on evenings and weekends and want a friend, not someone who they happen to go to the same day centre with, but one through mutual choice. These problems are made worse by lack of available support, accessible transport and having somewhere to go.

As I am a one-person project my aim is to pollinate ideas between organisations, looking at using what we have differently, to better suit the need. Using volunteers, possibly tying into the vast student population in Leeds is one idea. Another one is to communicate between staff to find people with similar interests across Leeds who might be able to share the costs of support and transport, across different organisations; we have technology, let’s use it?

But change is scary! Instead of talking we need to be doing. The majority of services are specifically for people with learning disabilities but in order to combat loneliness I think we need to be more involved in the community. Making friends nearby cuts out the problem of transport and could cut out the need for support in some cases.

With this in mind I have set up a Bee Friends Café.

This is at a local Café run by people with learning disabilities at Health for All Leeds. The aim of the weekly session is to bring the local community together, those who feel lonely and people with a learning disability. To enable socialising, which is difficult for lots of us, I have put conversation starters on the tables and have telephone slips to write down numbers if anyone wants to keep in touch. Around the room I have put up information about different disabilities, which can be read or not but is there. It is only the third week and it is slowly growing.

This is one way I am trying to change people’s perception of the learning disabled community as this, I believe, is the major cause of all their problems.

Placing value on such people would lead to better salaries for carers and therefore better carers. More understanding would lead to help on buses and not abuse. Better understanding would lead to more inclusion and less loneliness.

I have managed to find some people who are not accessing services – they are the inbetweeners or sub rosa group who don’t fit into learning disabled services. They are considered too able, but they do not fit into everyday life. The saddest part is that they realise this and it leaves them vulnerable to mental health issues.

Finding somewhere for them is proving to be very difficult. One 65-year-old man wants to try and gain qualifications in maths and English and to use a computer as he thinks he will be more accepted with these. He has tried before but will this make him fit into society more?

I’m sure there are many people out there who are coping by themselves but with the right support could lead much more fulfilling lives.

With this in mind I am trying to raise awareness for learning disabilities via Twitter.






So please pollinate these ideas, think about how you could do things differently and if it works, tell people.

Anna-Marie Garbutt
Facebook @BeeTogether18
Twitter @BeeLeeds