The barriers people with a disability can face when making friendships and relationships have been put behind the eight ball in Carrickfergus.
The innovative approach to the issue was adopted as members of Carrickfergus Junior Gateway Club and their families marked the start of Mencap’s Learning Disability Week.
They teamed up with other Gateway clubs at a pool competition for the initiative which also highlighted what causes almost one in three people with a learning disability to spend less than one hour a day outside their homes on a Saturday.
The ‘Castle Cup Pool Competition’ and fun day, held at the Swift, helped to encourage the building of relationships and partnerships with different Gateway groups from Belfast, Lisburn, Coleraine and Magherafelt.
Jonathan McAuley, Carrickfergus Senior Gateway member, said: “Friendships are really important for people with a learning disability and it can be difficult to organise nights out. You can get a bit isolated.
“For many years we have held our own pool competition, but with Learning Disability Week we decided to invite other Gateway Clubs to attend so we can all meet new people and new friends.”
Jonathan, winner of the pool competition, said “It was a tough competition so I was delighted to win. It was a great day hanging out with friends and meeting new people.”
The Carrickfergus Castle Pool Competition was just one of many activities planned across Northern Ireland for Learning Disability Week, which is organised annually by Mencap.
The charity was also celebrating 50 years running Gateway leisure groups, of which there are 35 across Northern Ireland that have helped build real and satisfying social networks for people with a learning disability.
A learning disability, the charity explained, is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty with everyday activities – for example household tasks, socialising or managing money – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability tend to take longer to learn and may need support to develop new skills, understand complex information and interact with other people.
The level of support someone needs depends on individual factors.
Aine O’Hare, Mencap community support officer, said: “Friendships are really important for people with a learning disability and social isolation is a problem.
“The best way we can tackle this is to increase opportunities for people with a learning disability to get out and interact with their local community.
“We want people to use this week as a chance to think differently about learning disability.”
There are 33,000 people with a learning disability in Northern Ireland. Mencap works to support them, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities.