How Ready2Shine is helping adults with learning disabilities nationwide
DESPITE being a part of the national curriculum for decades, the subject of sex education in schools can still be viewed as somewhat taboo and even daunting.
But for those who haven’t grown up within a mainstream school setting or perhaps don’t understand things in the same way, learning about physical relationships can be a million times more intimidating.
This is what Portsmouth-based learning disability nurse, Jenni Hudson, discovered a few years ago.
Through her established company Hudson Blake - which provides training in learning disability services - she found there was a real gap within the sector.
Fast-forward a few years and Jenni is now running the only company of its kind in the country.
Ready2Shine, which is based out of the Victory Business Centre in Somers Town, offers a range of sex education courses and resources from trained individuals tailored to adults with learning disabilities.
This includes the highly popular seven-part course on emotional and physical relationships called Prepare2Shine.
Jenni, 37, said: ‘People kept asking me do you provide sex education - we could really do with support for this, there was a real need for it.
‘I went to a networking group three or four years ago. I said I’ve got these enquiries about sex education and luckily I met Shannon Reddin there. She teaches sex education in schools so we were able to work together to form our programme.
‘People with learning disabilities have always had a tough deal and it is a difficult subject matter.
‘Often the issue is people have lots of questions about it but their carers or parents or guardians don’t know the best way to deal with it so they might not answer them.
‘That’s where we come in. The core programme we run has seven steps. We start with a session on “my emotions and me” and talk about how we cope with emotions and support others with theirs.
‘This then leads to other sessions on our own bodies, how to look after our bodies, relationships through to sexual health at the end. If you start with sexual health straight away people will get scared off.’
Essential funding from the National Lottery enabled them to start running the Prepare2Shine programme in 2017.
Jenni said: ‘We noticed a lot of important things through the programme. For example, so many people had never been taught proper words for parts of their anatomy, which meant sometimes doctors couldn’t help them with a problem like an STI.
‘Talking about self-care is also key. We teach them about making sure everything is clean and checking for lumps and bumps.’
Initially Jenni and her colleagues ran two free face-to-face group sessions a week on this course, which people would attend.
However, during lockdown these moved to online sessions. And now they run one face-to-face session and one online session a week - allowing people from as far away as Scotland and Wales to attend.
She added: ‘When we discuss relationships we talk about capacity, consent, sexuality, age and consent. Sometimes for example a 23-year-old lad might talk to a 15-year-old girl innocently on social media.
‘They might think they’re just being friendly but it could be interpreted as predatory. So we have to have that conversation.’
Alongside this Jenni was also providing staff training - teaching carers how to deal with questions around sex and relationships, as well as one-on-one sessions if the group course was not suitable.
Over the years people have volunteered for Ready2Shine, eventually making the transition to paid staff roles as it grew.
27-year-old Jordan Jones, who is studying psychology at the University of Portsmouth, started volunteering last year but is now a staff member who works on the Set2Shine programme.
Under Set2Shine participants complete a five-week online safety course, attend fortnightly wellbeing walks with each other and can attend a weekly Zoom quiz night. Jordan also relaunched a LGBTQ+ drop in session through Set2Shine.
He said: ‘There’s so much more now for people to be wary about with relationships.
‘That’s what the online safety training is for. We look at what grooming is, how to tell if you’re being catfished. Our catchphrase is “block, report support.”
‘People were especially vulnerable during the pandemic.
‘And during the pandemic we noticed a lot of people were isolated. That’s how the quizzes started - to give people a chance to socialise. And so many of them have made new friends and come out of their shells as a result.
‘The same happens with the wellbeing walks every two weeks which we do around Portsmouth.’
As a community interest company Ready2Shine is reliant on outside funding - mainly from the National Lottery - although £10,000 from the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Trust last year provided funding for a counsellor and online activities during lockdown.
But there are hopes the vital messages of Ready2Shine will be made more readily available with the launch of a new project called #Are You in the future.
As part of it Ready2Shine is set to create its own physical resources to be used in care homes and by carers across the country.
Jenni said: ‘#Are You will be based on all our core principles.’
To find out more about what Ready2Shine has to offer visit ready2shine.co.uk.
‘It motivates me to get up’
FOR GOSPORT resident Jake Robinson, Ready2Shine ‘saved’ him.
The 26-year-old who lives with cerebral palsy and learning disabilities signed up for its Prepare2Shine course as a participant.
‘When I came to the first session I was nervous, I was very quiet,’ he said.
‘It’s a taboo subject, parents and carers don’t want to talk about it so I didn’t know what to expect.’
Luckily Jake found the experience so rewarding that he went on to volunteer for the organisation, eventually transitioning to a paid staff member.
Jake, who lives at Park View care home, added: ‘It’s been good because I went on the course so I could see from both sides.
‘People think I’m helping out but really it’s helping me. It saved me. It motivates me to get up and be active and do something every day.
‘I’m getting up for other people and have made some great friends.’
Jake now runs the weekly Zoom quizzes for Ready2Shine. ‘It’s helped a lot of people through lockdown, I don’t think people have had much social interaction without it,’ he said.
‘It’s an amazing job. I took the opportunity, grabbed it with both hands.
‘I would say to people don’t be sacred about talking about sex.’