HATE crime, access to shops and changing places toilets are all amongst those concerns raised by disabled people as we emerge from the Covid-19 lockdowns.

TheFDF Centre for Independent Living has been providing support services to disabled people in Flintshire and Wrexham for more than 20 years.

However, in March 2020, face to face work closed down and the fear experienced by disabled people was ‘almost tangible’ with concerns over how would they shop, how would they get their prescriptions? What about seeing friends?

Founder Jan Thomas said: “Disabled people are used to spending many hours, days and even weeks on their own, loneliness and isolation is nothing new to them.

“But this was more extreme unable to access healthcare, without regular contact with friends, the staff at TheFDF noticed an immediate increase in anxiety, depression, mental health issues with people threatening to self-harm.”

Staff found new ways to meet virtually, over the phone and via social media and as referrals increased, work became more challenging.

Thanks to funding from the Big Lottery People and Places, the team launched their ‘Covid-19: De-escalation return to normality’ project in August 2020 where disabled people could meet virtually to share their experiences of the pandemic.

People could also share their concerns and worries over what the future may hold.

Jan added: “Little did we know that more than 12 months later we would still be returning to normality.

“The monthly meetings have been lively raising many issues far beyond Covid. Issues such as diversity in its widest sense, hate crime, benefits, housing, direct payments, blue badges, changing place toilets and very recently access to shops and restaurants for wheelchair users.

“We are thrilled to have been able to follow the Covid 19 work with an expansion of our work across the whole of North Wales we now work in all 6 counties on average we get 85 new referrals a month.

“We have launched an Empowerment project campaigning on behalf of disabled people of all ages to regain their rights which were eroded during the last 18 months, giving them a voice, rebuilding their confidence and ensuring they are fully included in their local communities.

“We have a small staff team who have worked tirelessly to keep the charity going, we get no funding but lots of referrals from all local authorities.

“We thank our major supporters The Big Lottery, Steve Morgan Foundation, The Williams Family Foundation, People’s Postcode Lottery, and WCVA, FLVC, AVOW and Disability Wales.”

Jan went on to say: “During the pandemic, sadly TheFDF lost 13 members, some of whom we have known for many years.

“So, this week we treated 30 of our members to a ‘proper, posh, afternoon tea party’ at the Beaufort Park Hotel.

“Paid for with a grant from the Diverse Together Community Cohesion Grant. They laughed, they cried, they mourned, but most of all they greeted friends they hadn’t seen since March 2020, and they celebrated life and they are already planning another event at Christmas.

“Life moves on and they have come back to us resilient and looking forward to the future.”

For more information about the FDF contact 01352 756618 or email ThomasJ@thefdf.org.uk.