Charity's new bid for Suffolk home

AN INTERNATIONAL charity providing homes for people with learning disabilities is hoping to open a place in Ipswich.A home could be up and running in the town within two years, offering an independent place for youngsters to live without having to rely on their parents for the rest of their lives.

By Jessica Nicholls

AN INTERNATIONAL charity providing homes for people with learning disabilities is hoping to open a place in Ipswich.

A home could be up and running in the town within two years, offering an independent place for youngsters to live without having to rely on their parents for the rest of their lives.

L'arche is the charity behind the project and has a network of more than 110 communities in 30 countries worldwide and eight communities in the UK.

Headteacher Dave Stewart at Beacon Hill School in Ipswich, supports the project, as a halfway house for youngsters once they finish school, and also helping them to integrate into the community.

Six volunteers would live in the house with around the same number of people with learning difficulties.

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The daily routine of life in the L'arche houses such as cooking, shopping and sharing meals is said to help people with learning disabilities grow in confidence and also develop more skills and independence.

Workshops would also be set up for those living there to work in but it is also hoped that some of them would be able to work in the immediate community such as in nearby shops.

At Beacon Hill lots of support is given to youngsters with learning and communication difficulties such as autism to help prepare them for adult life, but pupils often find that they are unable to find employment when they leave and quickly fall into the cycle of living with their parents on benefits.

Mr Stewart said: "Only one in ten youngsters from the school have found employment since they left.

"Others are on benefits such as carer allowance and severe disability allowance.

"They need more support than their parents can give and they consequently become benefit dependent.

"That is not good for society or their self esteem."

L'arche aims to change the cycle, helping youngsters to form relationships with people their own age, offering a more fulfilling life for them and also offering more peace of mind for their parents.

Stephen Serpell is chairman of the Ipswich L'arche committee.

He said: "For every parent of a handicapped child there is the issue of 'what will happen when I am too old to care for my child?'"

Mr Serpell said that even though some people move into independent living they still find themselves being isolated and the only relationships they have are with carers or their family which is not good for young adults.

WEBLINK: www.larche.org.uk

CASE study – with pics.

Gill and Jon Durant know just how difficult and frustrating life can be for people with learning difficulties.

Their son Hugh is now 34 and has Down's Syndrome. However Gill from Whatfield, near Hadleigh, said his situation is made worse because he is very socially aware.

She said: "Hugh has got very good social skills and will talk very happily.

"Someone with that degree of disability needs more support than someone who has a more profound disability.

"His older brother is married with children and I am sure there is a part of him that wonders why the same has not happened to him."

Hugh has tried independent living before but it did not work out, however somewhere like the L'arche houses would be perfect for him.

Mrs Durant said: "The great thing would be that it would give Hugh his own circle of friends."

Another positive aspect is that L'arche tries to recognise gifts and talents and Hugh is a big fan of drama and is also part of Spin Off, a drama group for people with learning disabilities.

The house is also good for parents. Mrs Durant said: "One of the parents of someone in another community said that one of the things that she finds useful is that she can go and visit her daughter and a have a cup of coffee like you would any other daughter.

"That is something very special and you don't experience that."

Doreen and Roger Whomes sent their foster son Damien to a L'arche home in Kent when he reached 18.

Although they looked around the Bury St Edmunds area where they live for a place for him, they, and more importantly he, did not like anywhere.

Damien has learning difficulties which include autism and is unable to communicate.

But Mrs Whomes said: "He still managed to give his vote.

"In some of the places he was grabbing me by the elbow and trying to pull me to the door because he did not like them."

It was a different story with the L'arche home in Kent and Damien has now been there for two years.

Mrs Whome said: "It is brilliant for him and is nice to have a lot of young people there.

"We visit him monthly and although he is always happy to come out with us, he is always really happy to go back again."

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