Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities. This month we feature Maria Spencer who, through her own determination and with the people supporting her, has overcome adversity and is now promoting wellbeing for others through her role as the homes’ activity organiser.
Access to life’s opportunities should be something that’s a right for everyone, regardless of any disability.
Mencap research shows that the majority of people with a learning disability say they want to live independently, either by themselves (40 per cent) or sharing a home with friends (30 per cent).
Just as significant is the concept of community connectedness. Guidance from the Social Care Institute for Excellence emphasises the importance of inclusion in community life for those with learning disabilities, while further statistics from Sense, gathered for the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, reveal that more than half of disabled people (53 per cent) report feeling lonely.
This research clearly highlights the value in supporting a person with a learning disability to become a respected part of their community.
No-one proves this fact better than Mansfield resident Maria Spencer, who has just won a country-wide accolade for community integration at the National Learning Disability and Autism Awards.
The 53-year-old, who lives with a learning disability and mental health needs at Sanctuary Supported Living’s Corner House Care Home, was thrilled to scoop ‘The People’s Award’, a well-deserved recognition of the personal development she’s shown since moving to the service in 2010.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Maria. When she arrived at Corner House – which provides care and support for 11 adults with learning disabilities – she was suffering from extreme anxiety following a mental health crisis, through which she had received little support.
The situation had a devastating impact on her health and wellness. Maria said: “For years I had severe difficulties with sleeping, and I relied heavily on convenience food and drinks, which both took a huge toll on my general wellbeing.”
At first Maria struggled to form relationships in the home, suffering from extremely low self-esteem. With support and encouragement from staff, her confidence gradually increased and she improved her communication skills and started to make conscientious choices.
In 2018, Maria became the home’s activities organiser, an opportunity which she embraced wholeheartedly. She arranged a Royal Wedding-themed event and has learnt how to take the wishes of her fellow residents into account, discussing her plans at house meetings and organising bespoke birthday parties.
This was a huge step for Maria, whose condition meant that she had previously struggled to think of others’ needs.
Her role also sees her liaising with various community partners when planning events, including caterers, resident groups and family members.
Maria said: “When my name was called out as the winner for England and Scotland I just couldn’t believe it. I was so excited! It was a brilliant night. The staff at Corner House provide me with amazing support.
“It’s been a long journey for me to get to this point. I found the role of activities organiser quite a challenge at first, but with support I’ve discovered how important it is to take notice of everyone’s needs and wants.
“I really feel like I’ve achieved something huge.”
Jo Hardwick, local service manager for Corner House, agrees unreservedly. She commented: “We are so proud of Maria and how far she has come.
“She has really overcome her difficulties and is an inspiration for everyone at Corner House, whether they’re staff or residents. She embodies the values of everything that Sanctuary Supported Living aims for in terms of integrating people with a learning disability into their local communities.”