In the modern world, with its multiple demands and the constant deluge of news and information, you could be forgiven for thinking that kindness is in increasingly short supply.
It’s not. It’s just that we are at risk of not pausing long enough to either acknowledge kindness or know when it’s needed. Random of Acts of Kindness Day on Monday, February 17 has caused me to reflect on how we relate to each other, and in particular how we relate people with learning disabilities.
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As I approach the end of my time at the helm of Milestones Trust, a Bristol-based social care charity that supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and dementia, I’m hugely encouraged by the passion, talent and dedication of the young people joining our organisation and the people and challenges that inspire them.
Take Kai, for example, an apprentice support worker based at Flaxpits House, a residential home for people with learning disabilities in Winterbourne. It was a random act of kindness that inspired Kai to begin his career in support work. Working in a well-known retail chain in Bristol, he noticed a gentleman in the store acting a little ‘differently’. His colleagues weren’t sure how to react, but Kai approached him and had a chat, and understood he was looking for a pair of shoes. He helped him choose them, try them on, tie the laces and, finally, make his purchase. Kai loved the feeling of helping, of connecting with the gentleman, and of feeling he’d made a difference. Soon afterwards he embarked on an apprenticeship in social care.
Like Kai, I was new to the care sector when I took up my role eight years ago. Kindness seemed like a good place to start. Over the years, I’ve come to realise that kindness takes confidence. And when it comes to talking to or helping someone with learning disabilities, it’s a lack of confidence, rather than a lack of kindness that can sometimes hold us back. We might avoid eye contact, or shy away from offering help or even just having a chat because we simply don’t feel confident enough to take that first step.
All too often, people with learning disabilities remain on the margins, invisible to the wider community. Supporting people not only to live in but to be part of the community is fundamental to really effective, person-centred care. Creating bonds and connections with people outside their home, and outside their professional support system takes dedication, creative thinking and patience on behalf of their support workers.
Of course, it can only really work when the arms of the community are open. So next time you’re on a bus, or in a café, or walking the dog in the park and see someone ‘acting a little differently’, have the confidence to make a connection. Even if it’s just a chat or a smile, it can change the course of a day. After all, a little kindness goes a long way – as, I am sure, will Kai.
John is retiring from his role as CEO at Milestones Trust later this year
Photos courtesy of Milestones Trust