What a difference a Pod Plus makes!

Tonight, we visit Pod Plus, a social club primarily for adults with additional needs.

Many members have learning disabilities, but anyone who finds social inclusion hard can go – though interestingly, my google maps is saying no to me…

Parking up, I spot two women chatting happily.

“Excuse me, do you know where Pod Plus is?”

I think it’s a long shot, but to my surprise, they do. Both their sons attend. Already I see the ripple effects of a beautiful social life!

Pod Plus aims to aid social inclusion for those that find it hard, although I must say, I’d never have known that when I walked through the door.

It’s freezing outside, but I’m fast thawing inside. The turn-out is good, the warmth in the circle shines brightly; People are sharing the highs and lows of their week, just like a Friends sitcom scene, with a laughter and banter to match.

The strength of the bonds is palpable; you can tell without a doubt who is bonded to whom! It’s also evident that everyone feels at home together; after all they’ve seen each other right through lockdown and out the other side.

Pod Plus succeeded in securing grant funding from Discovery’s Community Fund just before lockdown – what remarkable timing.

They quickly moved from a once-a-week social to a seven-day-a-week service, providing regular zooms, a 1-1 chatroom service for extra support and a supportive closed Facebook group that was alive with daily fun and frolics!

No Pod Plus colleagues got furloughed, the heat was on (unlike outside tonight) and thanks to a flexible team and many volunteer hours worked on top of those contracted, Pod Plus delivered a remarkable service.

One of the volunteers tells me about her own struggles as a parent of a child with autism whose dream professional career is now becoming a reality thanks to The Zone (Pod Plus’s sister club for Young Carers) and support from the charities Young Carers group.

If that doesn’t inspire you, what about a spot of frozen Zumba, then?

Um, no, you’ll be pleased to know I’m not talking Zumba outside; I’m talking Zoom Zumba sessions – that would freeze! A firm funny memory that I can only, erm, imagine!

Doing so meant Pod Plus became the only constant that members and families looked forward to.

By providing resources to members:

  1. Pod Plus participated in the Frome Window Wanderland project, where members produced resources to create ‘thank you’ window displays.
  2. Members fearful of leaving their homes did their permitted 1 hour of exercise because they were being cheered on by their online peers in the Facebook group.
  3. Activity packs were made, and distributed with doorstep check ins and always with an edible treat!

It’s clear Pod Plus provides a much-needed portal for more than ongoing inclusion.

The strength of friendships and camaraderie is what I feel lighting up the room as they meet in person this winter nearly two years.

Getting grant funding through Discovery’s Community Fund meant Pod Plus could provide a bespoke service throughout the pandemic to people that might have otherwise have become invisible through lockdown.

Zoom meant everything, even later members signed on from holiday cottages and caravans.

Sessions became an excuse to dress up, play games, celebrate seasonal events, practice storytelling, drama workshops and cook.

Heck, the Pod Plus posse produced a lockdown recipe book that sold 80 copies in the local bookshop, including the – er – remarkably named Tomato Soup Cake…!

There’s no doubt they are a lively creative bunch – the stats speak for themselves. For example, the members even helped create a free family treasure hunt which over 350 Frome families accessed!

Sarah (not her real name) tells me how hard it is for her to be in groups; she’s doing well on her course for life skills but, still, the college is too crowded, so she’s moving to a smaller one.

She tells her brain can’t ignore anything, and that’s when panic attacks start.

Lockdown was equally difficult for Sarah. She was one of the members that benefited from the 1-1 sessions. Home was hard, and her counselling ended, all of which influenced her panic attacks.

There are 15 people here (and they aren’t the quietest bunch!) So I ask her how she finds Pod Plus. She says she tells me how it’s aided her social life and skills; she’s even had a birthday party at a busy restaurant!

You can see that she’s here tonight because of how successfully Pod Plus supported her throughout.

Pod Plus, like Sarah, and so many others, hope to thrive. Yet, it costs £8,100 per year to run and is now on limited reserves, despite growing significantly in the last 18 months.

Pod Plus are on their way to securing a more sustainable future but, they are not there yet.

Good luck, Pod Plus! You are a gift, and we are rooting for you!

Have we sparked an interest? Learn more about Discovery’s Community Fund here.