A space for people to be themselves

The TouchBase model is all about providing the culture and environment which welcomes everyone. Picture: Sense Scotland
The TouchBase model is all about providing the culture and environment which welcomes everyone. Picture: Sense Scotland
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Continuity and laughs are best therapy, says Graeme Thomson

A LITTLE over 11 years ago Sense Scotland bought an old warehouse and office block in Glasgow’s Kinning Park area. Despite the growing trend at the time for closing day resources for disabled people, in theory to allow people to have greater access to mainstream opportunities, Sense Scotland recognised that for many of the families they supported, this simply wouldn’t work.

Families who have a son or daughter with communication support needs crave continuity and security in their child’s life. The TouchBase model is all about providing, not just the physical space, but the culture and environment which welcomes everyone. Key to this has been the courtyard café, which over the years has become a much-loved part of the Kinning Park community.

Pop along on a weekday lunchtime and you’ll find the place vibrant with noise, activity and, above all, laughter. You might meet a young man who recently received glowing reviews across the country for his dance performance; or a young woman who as part of a social group created a work of art which featured in the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony; maybe you’ll catch a group buzzing after their rebound therapy session on the giant trampoline. TouchBase has a sense of community, exploration and learning that makes every day one which the children, young people and adults cherish.

So as Sense Scotland celebrates 30 years of supporting children, young people and adults who have communication support needs, we’re also delighted to announce two more TouchBase centres are underway. In Lanarkshire the centre formerly known as Aveyron is to be rebuilt, expanded and launched as TouchBase Lanarkshire. At the same time our Ayrshire day services, will relocate to a building attached to a local library, as TouchBase Ayrshire.

Sense Scotland understands that as well as continuity, what families seek for their children are familiar faces, the chance to meet and make new friends and a base which can provide meaningful engagement with the wider community.

Marie, whose daughter Danielle uses adult day services, said: “I remember I came in here and watched Danielle and she flits about, she talks to people. Even if she just says hi and she gets a response, that makes her day. I want her to be happy, and to make and keep friends that she’ll see as she’s older. She says, ‘I’m going to see my friends in Sense Scotland.’ It’s lovely.”

It’s great to hear that the TouchBase model works for people like Danielle but we still need to work closely with families to make sure that their choices are heard and that the value of community resources like TouchBase is recognised.

So what is a typical day at TouchBase Glasgow like? Café staff arrive early to prepare food. Young people and adults who use day services start to arrive with support staff or parents, meet their friends and get ready for the day ahead. Later in the morning, a young man smiles throughout his regular rebound therapy session. A group of toddlers enjoy a session in the visual arts room, exploring homemade snow. At the same time Danielle and her support worker catch a bus for a gym workout at the local sports centre.

After lunch Ami starts her regular slot, working at reception helping visitors. Ian, who uses the adult day services, leads a drama session for his friends, while in the music suite a group rehearses for a performance which will premiere in Glasgow at the weekend. Children arrive after school for play sessions and to meet friends in the Children and Families suite. As the day comes to a close, families and carers arrive to take users home, while a large group gather in the events space for the monthly disco. Finally, as the last dancer leaves, it’s past 10pm and the shutters come down.

I’m lucky enough to work in TouchBase Glasgow, so I know how valued it is as a community hub. If you’d like to see this for yourself, come along in the week for a coffee, or lunch.

We can’t wait to throw open the doors on a new generation of these centres across the country, because TouchBase is for everyone!

Graeme Thomson is communications officer for Sense Scotland. To find out more about TouchBase and Sense Scotland, phone: 0300 330 9292, or visit: www.sensescotland.org.uk