The bright lights of the dancefloor aren’t often seen as a safe haven.
Excitable revellers and sanctuary usually don’t go hand-in-hand but for people with learning disabilities in Leeds, having the opportunity to have fun in a nightclub safely with their friends is priceless.
Social isolation and a phenomena dubbed ‘mate crime’, in which vulnerable residents are taken advantage of by so-called friends, can leave people with learning disabilities at risk of feeling sidelined from society.
But Leeds’s growing learning disability sector is helping to build skills and confidence among locals as well as open up for opportunities for them.
LEEP1, or Leeds People First, is a self advocacy service that helps Leeds’s learning disability community speak for itself while providing training and activities including at its new cafe in Roundhay Road.
Two years ago the charity also became designated party planners for its service users and volunteers, as up until then people with learning disabilities had the chance to get together on an evening just once every six months.
“It’s helping them socialise, as when they get home there’s nothing. They meet friends, meet love and find partners here,” said Mandy Haigh, manager at LEEP1. “Isolation is a problem with people with learning difficulties, Leeds is a brilliant place for them.”
Now a monthly club night runs for 150 people with learning disabilities in Leeds, many of whom find it harder to interact, understand information or learn new skills. LEEP1 and Health for All’s The Bridge alternately run a night a month, one at Tiger Tiger and one at The Tetley in Leeds.
Last Thursday LEEP1 filled the downstairs of Tiger Tiger. The disco ball was rotating, pop music was blaring and a crowd of people with differing disabilities was full of smiles.
The event, which marked Learning Disability Week, also gave singles with learning disabilities the chance to try speed dating with Luv2MeetU, a specialist friendship and dating agency that provides chaperones and runs events.
Leeds’s support of those with conditions such as autism and Down’s syndrome also attracted TV attention, with scouts from Channel 4’s Undateables show dropping into Tiger Tiger.
Mandy said: “It raises awareness that these people do need love like everyone else. I don’t like the name but if they find love through that programme then brilliant.”
LEEP1 chair Aaron Wood, from Chapeltown, has genetic disorder Kabuki syndrome and learning difficulties. Aaron, 25, said: “I get to have a bit of a drink in a safe environment.”
LEEP1 cafe volunteer Bhupesh Limbachia, from Hyde Park, added: “I would never be with my friends if it wasn’t for things like this and my work.”
SUPPORT OUT THERE FOR RESIDENTS
It is estimated that there are 15,000 people with learning disabilities in Leeds.
A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops but the causes can vary – most develop before birth, during birth or because of a serious childhood illness.
Leeds has a broad array of charities and services that support people with learning disabilities.
This month 325 people packed out the Queens Hotel for the Leeds Learning Disability Awards, organised by Tenfold. Visit tenfold.org.uk.