In 2019, the build up to Christmas was an exciting time with seasonal music, parties, and our Christmas meal at Knights Hill. Then, like so many other companies, Forward closed for the festive season until Members and Staff returned in January 2020, ready to face the challenges of the new year ahead. However, no one realised that within a few weeks everyone’s world would be turned upside down.
At the end of January, we were thrilled with the work of volunteers from Consort Medical who gave up their weekend to paint and decorate the pool table room and adjoining corridor at Millfleet. It was a spectacular and well needed transformation that totally brightened up the spaces. We would also like to thank Consort Medical for donating the paint and all the equipment needed for the project.
During February members were enjoying
their activities, accessing the community, and continuing to be creative, including
making a guitar rack in Studio 1 for recently donated guitars. However, on the 12th of February the
United Kingdom announced the first confirmed case of Covid-19 and four more
cases on February 23rd, so as Forward entered March we felt it prudent
for Members to avoid the town centre and stop using public transport, the swimming
pool, gym, library, and Strikes for bowling.
This was problematic because, although we still ventured to the local
park, Forward is a service that thrives on accessing the community and not everybody
staying in. Consequently, some members were disappointed that their usual
routine had to change, and other Members were worried because they had heard reports
about Covid 19 on the news.
On Wednesday 18th March, an
expected email arrived from Norfolk County Council (NCC), and it suggested that
we close for a twelve-week period. I responded that we would follow their
suggestion and by the end of the day all Members families, Carers and community
transport had been contacted and we closed.
The next day Senior Managers met at Millfleet and
agreed how strange and empty the building felt without the Members and Staff
who would usually mingle there. We collected our computers to enable us to work
The following week our priority was
to find out how members and their families were coping, especially as the
country faced lockdown from the 25th of March. Therefore, we
contacted them all and stayed in contact with them every week over the following
months, or as often as Members and their families wanted us to phone. Consequently, over the weeks, we further
strengthened the relationships we had with families and Carers.
During lockdown and over the
forthcoming months members created some wonderful work at home. They especially
wanted to show support for the NHS.
Members’ shared with us their birthday celebrations and some of their
To support Members with activities to do at home, Staff
at Ezone made a range of craft kits for members to make, paint and decorate. We
also supplied kits to the National Autistic Society for their Members to make.
As the demand for kits increased, Studio 1 started producing them too. We also
gave one to one support to some members, accompanying them for walks in their
Whilst the Management Team focused on the welfare of Members,
we also kept a close eye on the changing picture of Covid cases locally and
nationally. After weeks without a day service, some Members were struggling, and
their wellbeing was beginning to be affected. Therefore, we cautiously and
meticulously made plans to reopen our day service.
Forward is fortunate to have several areas that can work
autonomously to meet the needs of Members. Ezone is on a separate site to the
rest of Forward, and Millfleet, Studio 1, and Studio 2 occupy the same site but
are easily separated from each other. In normal times, Members would often be
involved in activities on more than one site but with the dangers of COVID-19
we decided that each site would be isolated from the other, working in separate
bubbles; four bubbles in all, with the option of Members who enjoyed working at
the allotment being part of Studio 2 bubble to give them variation and a place
to work in bad weather. Through the first lockdown, Staff members had
maintained the allotment and grown fruit and vegetables, ready for when Members
returned to carry on the work.
Each Bubble had a dedicated staff team allocated to it,
and each team were involved in developing their area ready for when the Members
Before Covid, Studio 2 had been a resource that Forward
were in the process of developing. The Staff group allocated to this area decided
to take the modernisation and refurbishment of this area into their own hands. They
brightened it up and decorated the area, transforming it with a complete
It was an ideal time to redecorate, and Staff in the
other bubbles also decided to repaint their areas. Resources were shared
between each area to enable Members to carry on with activities that they might
previously have been involved with in an area that they would not now be able
The Staff team put a great deal of thought, care, and
imagination into developing their bubbles. Everyone agreed that they missed not
seeing the Members and everybody wanted Members to have a Covid safe but
first-rate environments to return to. They wanted Members to be able to take
part in as many of the meaningful activities that they had enjoyed before
In addition to phone calls, Staff were keen to keep
contact with Members by leaving them photo messages and short video messages on
our Facebook page.
To support the safe reopening of Forward, we sourced
extra PPE and hand sanitiser, so we were very grateful for the donation of face
shields through Kings Lynn Lions, made by Mike Ford.
During this period Forward also benefitted from
donations from Margaret Taylor, £200 from Sibleco towards our autism project,
£2500 from Friends of Park House, and Kings Lynn Trinity Rotary Club towards
I.T. equipment. Some of this money was used to provide lap top computers to
enable Staff to work from home, due to Covid restricting the number of people
we could allow in an area at any one time. Donations were also used to fund televisions
in each bubble; these enabled Members to communicate with their friends in other
During this period some much needed restoration work
was carried out on our Millfleet premises by Alister Chadwick of AJ Restoration.
Millfleet was built in 1849, which is a little younger than some of the
buildings that Alister has worked on, including 15th century
churches and Windsor castle.
In preparation for reopening, the Staff team created booklets,
with lots of photos, that described what the bubbles would look like when Members
returned and how the day would involve the importance of washing hands, using
hand sanitiser and social distancing. In
addition, short videos with commentary were created and put on our Facebook
page, to further explain the changes in the buildings.
After an immense amount of thought, planning, risk assessing
and adaptions we reopened Forward on July 27th 2021. Initially every Member was offered one day back
in one of the bubbles. As Members would
return to a changed service, the staff produced booklets and videos to explain
the changed service and what it would look like. Many Members returned straight
away but others chose to return when they felt more confident over the following
months; to date almost all Members have returned. On several occasions we have had to close a
bubble because of a Covid alert, but with Covid testing and the strict
following of guidelines, we have mostly been able to keep the bubbles open.
For those Members who could not return or were on reduced days, the staff continued to talk with them by phone, we also set up TVs in each bubble so that Members could talk to their friends who were in different bubbles to them and used zoom for get-togethers, quizzes and activities.
When they returned to Forward, some of the Members, made craft projects for Members to make who were still at home. Instructions were included but also provided on a new Forward YouTube channel.
Despite the restrictions Covid placed
on many of our activities, Members in all four bubbles still produced high
quality products, either for sale or for personal use and endeavoured to
support the local community whenever an opportunity presented itself.
Together we have travelled through some very scary and
uncertain times, and this is set to continue into 2022. Throughout this period, members have excelled
and succeeded in so many ways and this report can only capture a snapshot of
their many achievements.
I would like to thank the Team Leaders and all the Staff
team who have supported Members with their activities and wellbeing through the
pandemic, they are a truly amazing, innovative, and dedicated group of people.
I also wish to thank my Senior Management team who have
excelled in the face of adversity, navigating the many challenges the pandemic has
provided, whilst safeguarding Staff and Members.
I would also like to thank our Board Of Trustees, who are
always supportive and at the end of a phone whenever needed.
We also need to extend our thanks to Parents
and Carers who we have worked closely with during the pandemic.
continues to work closely with Norfolk County Council (NCC) Learning
Disabilities Team, and this has been especially so during the pandemic. We would like to thank NCC for their support throughout
this time and especially Anna Fairhurst who could not have been more helpful
In 2022 we intend to extend our services and put more
provision in for Autistic people and Adults with Learning Disabilities. Therefore, we are actively looking for additional
premises to facilitate these services.
In the Spring we will be involved in pilots for NCC’s Independence
and Wellbeing pathways initiative. Before
the pandemic we had taken part in the Employment pathway.
Next year we will be working with Adult Services and launching
Forward Momentum, which is a project to give support to children leaving care, working
towards employment, after they turn eighteen years of age. Momentum is also the programme for Members’
Employment Pathway at Forward.
We’re an independent local charity committed to supporting adults with learning disabilities and autism. Based in King’s Lynn, we provide services across West Norfolk. We exist to create equal opportunities for vulnerable adults, so they can lead the lives they choose within their community.
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