Unlocking lockdown: How one social centre is bringing 'a little normality'

Centre 81 Great Yarmouth

Diana Staines, chief executive of Centre 81 in Great Yarmouth, has pulled out all the Covid-safe stops to keep the centre open. - Credit: TMS Media

Diana Staines says she feels like a parrot - constantly repeating the same phrases about washing hands, wiping down,  and keeping a distance.

The centre she manages in Tar Works Road, Great Yarmouth, is a lifeline for people with a sensory or physical disability for whom being stuck at home can be even more distressing.

Her determination to stay open has seen her remodel the rooms at Centre 81, a skills and activity hub created 40 years ago during the Year of the Disabled, into colour-coded Covid-safe hubs.

Centre 81 Great Yarmouth

Members enjoy a Halloween event in one of the Covid-safe bubbles. - Credit: TMS Media

The diligence of staff and volunteers speaks for itself with only one person testing positive for coronavirus during the pandemic and no-one else was infected.

Ms Staines said: “If you are in a bubble you stay in a bubble.

"We operated our skills and activities centre very safely during the last lockdown, operating three secure bubbles for members and regularly testing staff and volunteers.

“It’s absolutely essential for the mental and physical wellbeing of our members to attend Centre 81, which helps them to have a little normality in their lives.

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"Being stuck at home is bad enough for anybody, but if you have a disability it can be quite distressing.

Centre 81 Great Yarmouth

Red bubble enjoyed dressing up for Halloween at Centre 81 which remains open under the January 2021 lockdown. - Credit: TMS Media

"We know from experience that such isolation over several weeks can have a terrible effect on the mental health of our members and their carers.”

Feeling isolated and relying on other people for a little contact and kindness is something we have all had to grapple with over the last nine months, but for some disabled people it is a way of life that has already happened, she added.

Whereas the centre's 70 or so clients would normally be out and about, shopping, bowling, swimming, or sailing, around 30 were being accommodated over the week in bubbles with a range of activities like crafts, jigsaws, and cooking.

"Some families are at breaking point," she added. "We need to give them both some respite.

"We can get up and wander off whenever we want.

"If  you are dependent on someone else it becomes a different situation.

"It is about who are the most vulnerable individuals, well-being, and mental health."

The charity's door-to-door service is still operating, but with vehicles only able to take two passengers it was "challenging".

The impact on revenue was a concern, as it was for all charities, but Ms Staines hailed the support the centre had had from the National Lottery, Norfolk Community Foundation  and adult social services.

The decision to stay open had been made in consultation with Norfolk County Council and would be kept under review.

As in the previous lockdown, Centre 81’s staff are maintaining regular telephone contact with members who can’t attend the centre and will collect shopping and prescriptions for those unable to leave their homes.

Among businesses offering a helping hand was Great Yarmouth based LG Perfect MOT Service and Repair Centre.

The company staged a tombola throughout December raising £450.

Office manager Paul Hobbs said: “We thought we`d try and have some fun during these unprecedented times. We`ve supported Centre 81 for a good few years now and really appreciate what they do in our community.”

To find out more about Centre 81 or make a donation click the link here.