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Learning disability and loneliness: how a city farm can help.

"This is a great day, I am so relieved. I'm so happy for all those people who have been living in fear".

This was Radio 2 presenter Jo Whiley, reacting to the news that all those who suffer from a severe or profound learning disability are to be prioritised for the Covid vaccine. It follows days of campaigning from the DJ, after she was offered the vaccine before her sister Francis, who has diabetes and a rare genetic syndrome. For those living with a learning disability and their families, a group found to be ‘up to six times more likely to die from Covid-19', this represents a significant victory and a recognition that their health needs matter.

As well as protecting everyone on the GP Learning Disability Register from the physical risks of Covid-19, this decision also addresses a lesser-known health issue which disproportionately affects people with learning disabilities. Loneliness. Even before the pandemic, loneliness, defined as ‘a subjective, unwelcome feeling of lack or loss of companionship’, was common among people with learning disabilities. Mencap has called it an ‘epidemic’, with evidence showing that those with a learning disability are ‘seven times more likely to feel lonely than the general population’. Factors such as lack of social networks, lack of confidence and fear of being bullied or abused mean many find themselves stuck at home, reluctant to go out and meet new people. As well as the clear mental health issues that come with this, loneliness can also have a significant impact on physical health, leading to high blood pressure and higher mortality risk.

Here at Ouseburn Farm, we look to tackle loneliness through our Placement Programme, which provides personal development, work experience and a sense of community to adults with learning disabilities, difficulties and autism spectrum disorder. Our aim is to create an environment where our Placements feel safe, supported and part of the Ouseburn Farm family. Once trust has been built, we offer Placements the opportunity to take part in a range of activities around the Farm, including work experience in the farmyard, the kitchens and the café, as well as a range of workshop activities. This not only gives them a vital structure to their week, but also allows for the development of new skills and friendships. As a result of our programme, all of our Placements saw an improvement in their social contact and relationship building, with 93 % saying their confidence and willingness to try new things had also improved.

Over the past few months, our Placements have been doing their best to keep busy. Ami, who normally looks after the animals at the Farm, has been taking part in Zumba classes over Zoom, whilst Rhian and Joanna have joined an online choir. Kenny has been getting plenty of fresh air, regularly going for walks and doing 300 press ups a day. But despite all of this, they are desperately missing the Farm and the routine that the programme gives them. Newcastle United fan Ben has been “really really struggling” during lockdown, according to his mum Fiona. She’s noticed a “decrease in Ben’s confidence” and says he’s become “quite...reclusive, not wanting to really go anywhere”. This shows just how important it is to get our Placements back to the Farm as soon as possible, something Fiona is all too aware of. “Hopefully he’ll be back there (Ouseburn Farm) soon and we can have the old Ben back”.

We too are eagerly anticipating the return of Ben and our other Placements soon. If you or someone in your family could benefit from a placement at Ouseburn Farm when we reopen then please reach out to us by emailing


BBC NEWS. 2021. Covid: Jo Whiley 'so happy' over learning disability vaccine change. [Online]. [Accessed 1st March 2021]. Available from:

Campaign to End Loneliness. 2021. About loneliness. [Online]. [Accessed 24th February 2021]. Available from:

Mencap. 2019. People with a learning disability seven times as likely to be lonely this Christmas. [Online]. [Accessed 24th February 2021]. Available from:

Mencap. 2020. Mencap responds to ONS statistics on the social impact of COVID-19 for people with a disability. [Online]. [Accessed 24th February 2021]. Available from:

Mencap. Friendships - research and statistics. [Online]. [Accessed 24th February 2021]. Available from:


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