Our dream came from the lived experiences of local people with learning disabilities and autism in Highland and their aspirations to build a better future for themselves and those following in their footsteps.
“I didn’t start this for myself but for the other people, coming after me, so they don’t go through what I did” (Kenneth, our founder)
In May 1999, following consultation events across Highland, a partnership group was formed based on the stories of lived experience of people with learning disabilities in Highland. Why did they come together? Kenneth Maclennan, our founder, fought for the right to live in the community and be an independent citizen after being in an institution for many years. He asked why his friends were treated differently, were dying younger, and were still struggling to have a life. Key Housing (now Key Community Support) were the organisation that supported Kenneth in his quest and Highland TAG (Tenants Advisory Group).
This was the observation and inspiration for Health and Happiness! From this, the heart and mind values were formed and it is those same values that inspire us today! The original organisations within the partnership group were NHS Highland, Highland Council, People First Highland, Key Housing Association with Highlands Tenants Advisory Group, Highland Community Care Forum. We then appointed our first paid staff in October 2002, after securing £800,000 from the New Opportunities Fund, (now Big Lottery Fund) and £200,000 from NHS Highland and Highland Council to establish a Healthy Living Centre. During these years, Health and Happiness was hosted as an independent project by NHS Highland, and the partnership group was responsible for governance.
Chapter 1 – Healthy Living Centre
Health and Happiness distributed the funds across the eight regions of Highland, where people with learning disabilities formed Local Action groups and discussed how they wanted to use the money to make life better and fairer. Each region of Highland has its own history, culture, challenges and opportunities! During this 6 year project, we brought in an additional £500,000 funding to Highland and established the partnerships and networks that have evolved and remain to this day.Additional funders for this work included Scottish Arts Council, The Robertsons Trust, Esmee Fairbain Foundation, Lloyds TSB. Over 40 projects were developed which included :-
- Leisure Link -connecting people to leisure and social activities in community, including our allotment project being featured on The Beechgrove Garden, developing sensory garden and musical garden, activity clubs,facilitating access to mainstream leisure opportunities.
- Healthy Eating/Growing projects, funding polytunnels and disability friendly raised beds to grow and market local produce, cookery classes.
- “Through Our Eyes” arts project, involving drama, poetry and film.
- Digital training
- Two MFR Awards and an invitation to a Royal Garden Party
- Youthbank schemes
- Cycling for health, funding adapted tryicycles
- Come Dine with Me Credit Crunch cpmpetition and cookbook (Health Awareness Project)
- Citizen advocacy project – Advocacy Highland were our partner in this initiative and now have been managing and developing this service for several years.
Towards the end of this grant, people with learning disabilities were telling us that they wanted help to connect to communities and they still felt something was missing in how to enable people who were isoated and excluded to develop personal and social networks.
Chapter 2 – Community Connecting
Health and Happiness became a charity and company limited by guarantee in 2008. From then until 2015, Community Connections was established with eight community connectors working across Highland. This was funded by two large grants from The Big Lottery Fund, NHS Highland and Highland Council
Community Connecting is a philosophy that focuses on the persons’ gifts and opportunities, enabling them to become full and active citizens. People identified as having disabilities should be visible within their communities, actively contributing, sustained in their networks of support and in control of their lives. The local community is the foundation of developing these skills and opportunities, allowing growth and development that is mutually beneficial.
Community Connecting grew in Highland from Local Area Co-ordination principles and we were linked to the Scottish Consortium for Learning Disability (LAC) network. Eight Community Connectors across Highland worked alongside volunteers and partner agencies in communities around the person-centred aspirations of people with learning disabilities. This involved :-
- Working alongside a local community to support them to become more welcoming and inclusive.
- Working with individuals and families to help them become more confidant and support them to achieve their dreams and build independent lives based upon the principles of John O’Brien’s 5 accomplishments :-
For the Individual :-
- Sharing ordinary places
- Growing in relationships
- Developing abilities
- Having a valued social role
- Having choice and control
For Communities :-
- Community Presence – increasing presence of a person in community life
- Community Participation – expand and deepen people’s relationships
- Encouraging valued social roles – enhance the reputation people have and increase the number of valued ways people can contribute
- Promoting choice and control – helping people have more control and choice in life
- Supporting contribution – how can we help people to develop more skills?
These years saw impact on individual lives, families and communities, with two independent evaluations evidencing the change in Highland. The dedicated, skilled team that progressed our vision through these years were an inspiration and the legacy of their work continues in the sustained projects and relationships to this day. Health and Happiness would like to express our thanks for their work, which firmly established community connecting, with all of its challenges, and was recognised by Cormac Russell, (Nurture Development, Asset Based Community Development Europe), who spent a few days with us as part of his case study research. The final report of 2015 is attached, which highly commended the Community Connectors but also the management and governance of Health and Happiness.
In 2015, the funding for community connectors came to an end. Health and Happiness developed the vision to the next stage, undertaking development work based on the journey so far but with more of a focus on community connecting as the road map to our desired destination, but not the vehicle itself. If we were to sustain the changes we seek, this must be embedded within and across a range of organisations and the voice of people with learning disabilities and/or autism must be taken to the next level : as providers and consultants in their own right in addition to being beneficiaries!