How one Special Needs centre is adapting to a socially distanced world

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An exterior shot of the Calvert Lake centre, with a lake and mountains in the background.

Here at Calvert Lakes, we have been welcoming school groups to our residential outdoor activities centre in the Lake District since 1978. We focus exclusively on those with disabilities and their support and can cater for all complexities, including those that other centres may struggle to accommodate. We were the first of our kind in the country, although there are now other centres who have focused on the SEN residential sector and will operate in a similar way. 

A core difference between specialist and mainstream centres is the entirety of the range of adapted facilities they will have. We have no dormitory rooms, with all bedrooms featuring en-suite wetrooms. A selection of rooms also have raisable hospital-style beds, and we can put additional equipment such as hoists and shower chairs into rooms as required. We also have a hydrotherapy pool with a tracking hoist, and a sensory room. The centre has additional safeguarding features such as vibrating alarms which fit under a pillow for those with sensory disabilities and special security doors to prevent flight risk. Every aspect of the facilities at the centre has been designed with the additional needs of our disabled visitors in mind, with lifts and ramps throughout. 

Activities

We offer everything you would expect from a mainstream centre, but we may deliver it in a different manner. For example, we have specialist frames to allow wheelchair users to abseil straight from their chair, hoists to get chair users in and out of boats or onto horses, wheelchair accessible trap-driving and a host of other adapted activities. 

Perhaps the biggest difference in terms of activity provision are our instructors, who view their work here as almost a vocation. In normal circumstances we are open all year round (with the exception of Christmas and New Year) which allows us to retain permanent staff who then build up the soft  skills required to encourage and coach SEN pupils to participate. The majority of the children who visit here will have learning disabilities, rather than just physical, although many may have a combination, so these soft skills are as important as the instructing qualifications which our instructors also have.

The facilities, the adapted activities and the soft skills of the instructors allow us and similar centres to cater for groups with a high number of SEN participants, whereas mainstream centres can be overwhelmed if there are more than just a few. This is especially the case when those with learning disabilities also display challenging behaviours. However, regardless of specialisations, the entire sector has felt the ongoing impact of the Covid-19 lockdown. 

After Lockdown

Back in February, before the world changed, we were looking forward to another successful year and anticipating a higher number of visitors to the centre than ever before with forward bookings looking very positive for the whole of 2020. Needless to say, that all stopped with the centre being fully closed to residents from mid-March until our reopening date of 31st. July 2020. Although at time of writing schools are unable to participate in residentials until at least 2021, unlike a lot of centres we have the benefit of other types of residential disabled visitors, some of which will be visiting the centre over the coming months. We have spent a lot of time in the last few weeks looking at all operations making sure we minimise risk as much as possible and ensuring we comply with all the relevant Visit Britain ‘Good to Go’ guidelines and accreditation with our Covid-19 policies given prominence on our website. The key areas to address are changing room allocations, communal spaces and bedrooms to fit the new standard, enforcing social distancing, ensuring catering and meal times are safe, facilitating disinfection and sanitisation throughout the center, team training and PPE.

Broadly speaking, we have to accept that the capacity of the centre will be reduced by at least 35%. This is due to restrictions on numbers we can accommodate within individual activity groups, over-allocation of rooms to ensure households or bubbles are kept separate and also use of the communal areas and dining room where limited numbers can be accommodated at the same time. We have put markings on floors throughout the centre, put Perspex screens up in reception and the tuck-shop and erected multiple cleaning and sanitisation points through the centre.

While we are doing everything within our power to ensure that all guidelines are followed to make a stay with us safe and secure, it is the responsibility of visiting staff to ensure that the social distancing of those in their care is managed. If members of a group are unable to maintain social distancing, we need to know in advance so that we can do a personal risk assessment for the safety of staff and other residents.

We will not be able to deliver some of our normal activities, while others will hardly be impacted. We won’t be doing any horse or trap driving during the course of this pandemic due to proximity of staff to users. Similarly, we would need to assess the risk for individuals who need a high level of proximity when fitting harnesses. Some of the activities however, such as guided walks, accessible cycling and canoeing, require very little adaptation other than awareness of the need for social distancing and sanitation. Whatever the disabilities of the group, we can ensure we will still be delivering a meaningful programme of exciting and enjoyable activities. 

As we all know, guidelines and restrictions are changing regularly as we go through this post-lockdown period and we will be constantly adapting and changing our practices as we go. The good news for SEN School groups is by the time they are able to return to the centre in 2021 we will have had at least 4 operational months to tweak and finesse what we do. Rest assured, when you do return we will have plenty of experience in delivering safe and secure Covid-19-compliant learning outside the classroom residentials. 

Justin Farnan, wearing a black fleece top and sunglasses on his hear
Justin Farnan

Justin Farnan is the Sales and Marketing Manager at Calvert Lakes, as well as one of the Duty Managers responsible for site safety.

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