Mencap ‘Beacon’ draws local learning disability groups to first learn and share event

Volunteers and people with a learning disability from Ballymena and District Senior Gateway Club joined other Mencap local groups and clubs from across Belfast and County Antrim to attend the first ‘Learn and Share’ event at the Northern Regional College in Newtownabbey on Saturday, April 20 organised by Northern Ireland’s only Gateway Beacon.

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Carrickfergus Junior and Carrickfergus Senior Gateway Clubs make up the Gateway Beacon. The two Carrick groups are partnering with the learning disability charity over the next three years in the new Beacon initiative which aims to support Mencap’s other groups and clubs to advance the personal development of people with a learning disability through sport, recreational and other social opportunities in their own communities.

Jackie Pollock of Carrickfergus Junior Gateway explained that the Gateway Beacon will become a learning hub and the centre of a regional network of local Mencap groups and clubs. “This is the start of something really exciting. The Beacon will support Mencap’s groups and clubs to give more people with a learning disability the chance to become more independent and active members of their community, so it was great to see our friends from Ballymena Senior Gateway taking part.

“By sharing our expertise and knowledge as the Gateway Beacon for Northern Ireland with them and other Mencap groups and clubs, we can develop a useful network and share good practice and information together that can bring out the best in each group which helps us all to grow and move forward. Our Learn and Share event is part of that vision.”

Maureen Piggot, Mencap in Northern Ireland’s director who attended the Learn and Share event said, “People with a learning disability are more likely to experience isolation, have poor health and are less likely to participate in social activities.

“Through Ballymena and District Senior Gateway Club and our other clubs and groups across Northern Ireland, children, young people and adults with a learning disability can enjoy a good social life, stay fit and healthy, pursue leisure activities and make new friends.

“Carrickfergus Junior and Senior Gateway Clubs have a particularly good track record of helping people with a learning disability to get involved in their local community and we’re excited that they have taken on the role as Northern Ireland’s Gateway Beacon.”

During the course of the day attendees took part in workshops that looked at creating their online presence, effective communication, involving young volunteers and were trained in health and safety, the protection of vulnerable children and adults and disability awareness.

The Gateway Beacon online resource hub was also launched at the Learn and Share event. The new website will help the sharing of information and best practice among Mencap’s groups and clubs.