'It makes my day' - How a visit from the 'booster bus' helps people with learning disabilities

The 'Berkeley Booster Bus' has been visiting people with learning disabilities in Monmouthshire Credit: ITV Cymru Wales photo

"It makes my day", smiles Adrian. "It makes me happy and proud to be round such a nice, happy bunch of staff."

It's a rainy Thursday in Monmouthshire, and Adrian, who lives with his mother in Caldicot, is speaking about the visit of Sarah and Gary, his two support workers.

Sarah and Gary both work at the Berkeley centre, a day centre for adults with learning disabilities in nearby Chepstow.

Since lockdown commenced in March, the centre has been shut.

So Sarah, Gary, and the rest of the team have hit the road, visiting service users in their specially christened 'booster bus.'

Tom and Gina showing off their dance moves after the booster bus pulls up Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

The first stop is in Chepstow, where a visit is made to Gina and Tom, a brother and sister with learning disabilities who live with their parents.

Gina's excitement is plain to see when she rushes to the doorstep.

According to mum Alison, the weekly visits are the highlight of the siblings' week. "It just gives them a focus for the week and something to really look forward to", she says.

"Its just difficult for them to understand what's going on and why it's going on. From the time Tom gets up in the morning to the time he goes to bed, he asks 'Why do we have to stay in?', 'Why are the shops shut?' 'Why can't I see my friends?' They literally just can't understand the whole concept of what's going on."

Adrian Heath with the Mencap team and Richard outside his home Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

In nearby Caldicot, 46-year-old Adrian says he has lots of friends at the Berkeley centre, and that he is missing his social life. "I'm not really staying in touch with my friends", he says. "I'm missing all the fun and excitement and going out."

That is where the booster bus can help. Each week, Sarah and the team pass messages, photos, letters and birthday cards between the 60 or so service-users, so they can stay in touch.

They also hold fancy dress events, and this week were filming the service-users' best dance moves for a video to mark Learning Disability week, which this year celebrates the theme of friendship.

Glynis (centre of picture) lives with her sister Myfanwy in Caldicot Credit: ITV Cymru Wales

Research by learning disability charity Mencap suggests that social isolation and loneliness are already 'extreme' problems for people like Tom, Gina and Adrian.

Those with learning disabilities are thought to be 'seven times more likely to feel lonely than the general population', according to the charity.

Glynis, who is 77, lives in Caldicot with her sister Myfanwy. Myfanwy says that Glynis thrives on company beyond the four walls of the family home.

For now, there is no prospect of a return to normality for the users of the Berkeley Centre, but the booster bus, is continuing to bring sunshine into these people's lives.