Alex Steele has been attending ECL’s Saffron Walden Day Service since 2004 and can often be heard experimenting with sound in the music therapy room. Being non-verbal, Alex loves music and uses Makaton - a unique language programme of symbols and signs - to communicate with his peers and staff. Alex’s friendly nature, zest for life and happy disposition have made him hugely popular with the team and his confidence has grown enormously with each passing year. Unfortunately, the outbreak of Covid-19 meant that his regular visits were forced to stop in March 2020 and he was understandably anxious about how that might affect him.
Previously housed in a supported living complex, Alex moved back in with his mum and dad at the end of the first lockdown. Although he was unable to physically attend ECL Day Services in the months that followed, both were keen that he maintain the relationships he’d built, so they were pleased to discover that there was a packed schedule of virtual sessions available for him to join throughout the week – even better, mum could get involved too!
Alex has thrown himself wholeheartedly into the new schedule and has particularly enjoyed the cookery, photography, and seated exercise classes. The zoom sessions have not only allowed him to keep in touch with his existing friends, but also to meet people from other ECL Day Services across the county and safely explore different interests and activities. As the resident Makaton expert, he has been more than willing to support other users and staff throughout, helping to improve the lockdown experience for everyone thanks to his patience and understanding.
Seeing how Alex flourished helping others learn Makaton, the team saw the opportunity to develop his self-belief further, by tasking him with running his own virtual masterclass. His session has proved so popular that he now runs them alongside his mum every other week and, as a
result, his confidence has soared. Going forward, ECL hopes to make Alex’s Makaton lessons available to a wider audience, so that others can benefit from his expertise.
“Alex’s interaction with customers new and old has been so lovely to see,” says Crista, “We were concerned initially that the progress he’d made over his 16 years with ECL might be reversed during lockdown, but the team has put together such a fantastic programme of virtual events and classes that I think he’s busier than ever! On a personal level, being able to get involved with the sessions means I have also been able to build a rapport with some of the staff he’s so fond of which has been great.”