IT’S not just a facility for the disabled but one which can benefit the wider community – that’s the message Leonard Cheshire Disability want to get across about its computer drop-in sessions at its HQ in Onchan.
The sessions were set up three years ago after the conversion of a ‘dark and dingy store room’ in the building into a light and accessible work area equipped with desks and computers.
In addition to disabled users, the sessions are also open to young people and elderly residents who might want to get to grips with the mysteries of email and the internet.
Keith Fitton, service manager, said: ‘Many older people now perhaps have children or grandchildren living out of the country and it helps them to keep in contact.
‘One of the things we are keen to emphasise is that it is not purely a disabled facility.
‘We do also have some young people who call in to use the facillities and there are also some who have left school who go online looking for jobs. It’s a good way of breaking down barriers between people.’
One of the charity’s objectives is to help integrate disabled and able-bodied clients. A recent acquisition is a Nintendo Wii, which they hope can be used on equal terms by all children, disabled or not.
David Wood is the co-ordinator who recruits and organises the volunteers who help out at the computer drop-in centre. ‘We get a lot of help from our volunteers and people can either work on their own or, if they need any help, there should be someone to give it,’ he said.
Michelle Ferrer is the former volunteer co-ordinator who got the computer centre up and running.
‘We have always worked on a drop-in basis,’ she said.
‘People can come in and use of the facilities and we try to make sure there is cover during core times, which are 11am to 3pm, Tuesday to Thursday and specific guidance is generally available if anyone wants it.’
For Richard Stubbins, who lives in Douglas, the centre has been a great asset.
‘I’d never touched a computer before,’ he said.
‘I’m learning how to do emails. It’s definitely made a big difference to me. I can find out about anything on the internet at the click of a mouse. I enjoy it very much.’
In fact Richard has since become a volunteer himself with the charity and helps to run the fundraising helmet park they operate each year at the Ramsey sprint.
‘People become isolated,’ Michelle said.
‘If they have a life-changing condition initially you find people come closer, then their circle of friends drifts away.
‘The aim is to get them doing things they used to do or trying new things.’
Leonard Cheshire has eight supported living units around the island, as well as a community team that operates throughout the island giving social support – taking people shopping, or to the cinema or gym, or even to Marks and Spencer for a coffee.
The computer centre was established using eqipment donated by Royal Bank of Scotland and has five desktop and one laptop computers.
It is fully wheelchair accessible and also has height-adjustable desks, high contrast keyboards, speech recognition and communication software. There is also Wi-fi access for anyone who wants to use their own computer.
The organisation, which is always pleased to hear from new and willing volunteers, currently has about 30 people who help out, collectively providing the equivalent hours of two full-time members of staff.
The charity was set up in the 1950s by the former Second World War pilot whose name it now bears. Leonard Cheshire was a decorated airman who boasted a Victoria Cross among his many accolades. His 101st and final mission, in 1945, was at the request of Winston Churchill when Leonard Cheshire was the official British observer at the dropping of the atom bomb on Nagasaki.
Some have suggested his wartime experiences were among the factors which motivated him to set up his first centre in his own home at Le Court in Hampshire in the late 1940s.
Today the charity offers support to disabled people in 52 countries around the world. In 1991 Leonard Cheshire was given a life peerage and he died a year later, aged 74.
To find out more about Leonard Cheshire Disabillity, or to offer services as a volunteer, call 679030, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call into the centre at Beech House, Main Road, Onchan.