Waltham Forest Disability Resource Centre
The Waltham Forest Disability Resource Centre (WFDRC) is a user-led centre in Leytonstone where disabled people can learn new skills, gain independence and healthy living, and join in with others in their Community. Patchworktogether spoke to Peri Stanley, the manager of WFDRC, about what the centre means for its users.
“Before I worked at the WFDRC, I had always been managed by disabled people… I saw the way that a few adaptations, for example equipment or perhaps a PA enabled people to use their talents to make an enormous difference”.
Employers could benefit from making such adaptations, allowing the talents of people with disabilities to flourish and prove a huge asset to their companies.
About the WFDRC
When the WFDRC was established 30 years ago, it was one of the first organisations run by and for disabled people.
At the time, the majority of people with disabilities faced extreme limitations when it came to employment and opportunities. They were often placed in day centres where the activities provided were simply dictated by others. The WFDRC provided an alternative: led by its users, it formed a space where people had the freedom to choose exactly what they wanted to do.The WFDRC’s service users constitute much of its management committee and body of employees, maintaining its user-led approach to this day.
What the WFDRC means for its users
The WFDRC means users get to choose what they want to do and when, whether it be an exercise class, a needlework session or a choir. However, at the core of the WFDRC’s mission is the creation of a supportive social network. “When you face barriers to inclusion and employment”, says Peri, “you are at huge risk of becoming isolated and lonely”, something many of the population will have gained an insight to during the recent lockdown.
By providing aspace for people with disabilities to form their own social support network in which they feel valued, the WFDRC allows them to then go out into the community with greater self-confidence. “We don’t want the DRC to be the be-all-end-all for its users’ lives,” says Peri. Instead, the DRC offers a foundation for people to build on, enabling them to lead more independent and fulfilling lives.
Unfortunately, the lack of state funding for the centre means that users pay out of their own pockets and resources can be limited.
The effect of coronavirus
Despite the coronavirus pandemic and consequent temporary closure of the WFDRC, the community it fosters perseveres. With regular phone calls, yoga and Zumba classes on zoom and the provision of art materials and worksheets, the WFDRC is maintaining its activities through lockdown. The needlecraft group which has continued to meet three times per week via zoom has been a lifeline for its members, many of whom are more isolated than ever as a result of the government’s shielding plan.
Peri also mentions that non-disabled people have also been joining in with a number of activities, able to reach a wider audience than usual through the WFDRC’s facebook page. This goes to show that “when you make things inclusive, there doesn’tneed to be any separation; people can enjoy things together”.
The fact that the WFDRC’s employees have been phoning to ask when they can return to work speaks for itself. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted more than ever the necessity of the connections and the support network that the DRC continues to create.
What message can employers take from the WFDRC’s mission?
The disability employment gap in the UK remains huge. “Before I worked at the WFDRC, I had always been managed by disabled people” says Peri, “I saw the way that a few adaptations, for example equipment or perhaps a PA enabled people to use their talents to make an enormous difference”. Employers could benefit from making such adaptations, allowing the talents of people with disabilities to flourish and prove a huge asset to their companies. With a bit of imagination, employers could think of ways that somebody who is different from them could benefit their company, even if they only worked one day a week.
Of course, adaptations do require funding, and when this is not provided and there is a choice between somebody who does need extra equipment or assistance, and someone who doesn’t, the thought of profit will come first. However, this means that employers could often be missing out hugely.
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