Life

Anne Hailes: Mainstay has proven a real winner in Downpatrick and beyond

Singer-songwriter Tim Wheeler, frontman of Downpatrick rock band Ash, picked out the prize-winning tickets for a £25,000 draw at Mainstay DRP's 25th Anniversary celebrations in his home town earlier this month. With him are his mother and Brain Connor of Danske Bank Picture: Philip Walsh

THIS is a story of success. Any 25th anniversary is important but for Mainstay DRP based in Downpatrick it's been a quarter of a century of important work where a charity has risen from nothing to being one of the top businesses in the area.

In the early 90s, a number of parents and carers of children with a learning disability living in the Downpatrick area wanted to give their young people a better model of care, a home from home where needed. They got together to address the lack of services available and so the Mainstay Downe Residential Project (DRP) was born.

What started as a one-bed facility has grown to a complex of buildings with 250 clients and a professional staff of 172. Their newest scheme, Cumulos Heights, is made up of five buildings to complement existing accommodation, offering extended day care, respite care, two residential homes and a training and administration centre.

Today 65 clients use the day-care facility, where activities include pottery, woodwork, horticulture and computer studies – and, of course, the important aspect of socialising with others.

There are 21 people in residential care and many families make use of the respite facilities, some for a two-to-three-day stay, some for longer, all designed to give family members a break to organise their own lives.

Kate Laverty, an independent consultant with the charity, told me that this is a busy organisation which has transformed the lives of many and offers employment to qualified staff and they are proud that recently the Regulation and Quality Improvement Authority visited and gave them a clean slate for the high standard of care.

Having a learning disability or autism can involve numerous complex conditions and syndromes – every man and woman is an individual and treated as such. Getting out and about is vital to wellbeing so there are many events organised, including trips away to Strangford, to Belfast to see the Belfast Giants ice hockey team in action or to the Titanic Experience – there is always something on the cards to make life stimulating and fun.

As well as all this, the charity has eight houses in the community offering supported housing for those with learning difficulties who can live independently but need assistance to help with everyday tasks.

Here staff from the charity provide 24-hour cover so the resident always have someone to help when necessary.

"Vocational training is another important part of Mainstay DRP. In the Gaoler's Kitchen cafe in the Down County Museum in Downpatrick, our clients cook in the kitchen and serve customers and have a hand in the running of the place. They learn as they work which means they can look for work elsewhere knowing they have the training needed,” Kate tells me.

What started as a facility in the Downpatrick area working with the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust has proved so successful that clients now come from other health trust areas, proving that there's a growing need throughout Northern Ireland and the model of Mainstay is the answer.

Fundraising is a constant part of every day life with families, clients and staff working hard to raise money for future projects.

Already there's excitement about the Strictly Come Dancing night on May 26 at the Slievedonard Resort and Spa when staff, clients and friends will dance the night away whilst raising funds at the same time.

But that's not all.

“By way of a thank you for caring, DRP are inviting people to nominate a Local Hero, someone who has provided the best services to people with learning disabilities," Kate says.

"For instance, sometimes a customer is slightly afraid of having their hair cut – it helps when the hairdresser is gentle and patient and explains what's going on. Sometimes people don't like every item put on the same plate when they are out for a meal so a waitress who is willing to bring three or four plates to divide the food makes all the difference.”

It's a matter of thinking how to make life easier for others – but how many of us do that?

The winner of the award will be selected by a committee of people living within Mainstay as they are in the best place to judge the following categories: best restaurant; best hair and beauty; best bar; best cafe; best attraction; and most accessible. Nominations are opening until February 28.

Even with so many strings to their bow, Mainstay DRP manage to link them up to offer this critical service for many families who are often struggling to balance the challenges of everyday life supporting a disabled loved one, particularly as they grow older at a time with our learning disabled population is growing in size and complexity.

:: For more information see mainstaydrp.org

:: Question

Anne,

Why is Ravenhill now called Kingspan?

Charlie.

The rugby grounds formerly known as Ravenhill lost this identity four years ago, Charlie, when a new sponsorship deal was put in place with the Kingspan Group, mainly involved in insulation contracts around the world.

Based in Cavan and Portadown, they have the jersey rights and their contract to name the stadium until 2023 and, it's hoped, beyond.

According to Richard at Ulster Rugby, there was a bit of discontent at the time of phasing out ‘Ravenhill' and welcoming in ‘Kingspan' but now 98 per cent of punters and press have embraced the new name.

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