FRIENDSHIPS are being fostered at a time when we all need them the most, thanks to a new initiative from Heart of England Mencap.

The charity, which supports local people with learning disabilities, has set up a new ‘Friendship Circle’ project in Stratford, securing funding from Warwickshire County Council to nurture existing friendships and foster new ones through these challenging times.

The group is open to all and not just those supported by Heart of England Mencap, as Programme Coordinator Kate Buttrick said:

“The Friendship Circle group was created to enable all adults with a learning disability in the Stratford area to help stay better connected to their friends and loved ones, and also to be given the chance to make new friends during the pandemic.

“The first lockdown back in March 2020 highlighted to us the devastating effects isolation can have on us all, but especially for those with a disability.

“We wanted to find a simple way for people to stay connected during these lockdowns and to feel part of a fun and safe community.”

The Friendship Circle was accepted for a Warwickshire County Council Community Grant, receiving £1,500. The money paid for welcome packs and writing equipment for participants and helped to develop virtual online sessions.

“We are now running 5 hourly sessions a week which are able to reach vulnerable people who would normally find it very difficult to stay connected and maintain friendships,” Kate added.

“We do exercise classes, fun quizzes, karaoke, sessions on cyber safety and mental health and wellbeing, and group community forums sharing our values and opinions on local matters.

“We also have more than 25 people now writing to each other weekly – some writing to new friends who they have met on our virtual sessions!

“Both the letter writing and virtual groups are growing and developing day-by-day – which just proves to us the importance of staying connected and being a part of a community during these difficult times.”

For more information on joining the Friendship Circle contact Kate by email or phone: kbuttrick@heartofenglandmencap.org.uk or 07929 030851.