by Jacqui Thompson

Happy New Year to everyone we support, families, staff, volunteers, funders, partners and supporters. I hope everyone is feeling in a better place knowing we now have a vaccine and we can hopefully see an end to this really difficult time. We need to remain positive for the people we support – it’s what they deserve in 2021!

Stay at home and keep safe is the message we all keep hearing, but what if being at home is not safe? What if you are fearful every time you hear a noise outside or a knock on the door . We should all feel safe in our own homes, right?

We support many people who have been repeatedly targeted in their community and in their own home because they have a learning disability, so quite often they really don’t feel safe at home.

Scam phone calls, demands for money and strangers knocking at the door has sadly become a trend during lockdown. People offering to do a neighbourly thing and go shopping for you, only to disappear with your money – another recent scam.

People who are lonely being able to access technology during this time to connect to organisations like ours has been a real life saver, but it has also opened the door to a world of online scams, exploitation and fear of whether the person they have befriended is genuine.

Northumbria Police have been brilliant at keeping us informed of what the latest scams are in our area, and they have helped us to run virtual workshops to make sure the most vulnerable people we support are kept informed. It’s a fine line though and we have to be sensitive as to how to inform people who are already scared enough about who they can trust, particularly when people are feeling very anxious about being at home on their own and aren’t able to go out to their local support groups.

LD:NorthEast have worked really hard to keep people safe over the last few months; staff and volunteers checked in with people daily over the phone, on Zoom, via WhatsApp video calls and even sitting at the bottom of someone’s garden to provide much needed reassurance. We have also supported people to go for a walk have a chat and discuss any worries they have. It’s been hard enough for everyone, but hearing that someone has being targeted in their own home on top of everything else that’s going on is just awful.

Over the last 5 years we have been fortunate enough to have received funding from the Northumbria Police & Crime Commissioner, Newcastle Building Society and most recently the Co-op Local Community Fund to be able to deliver our awareness workshops, offer 1-1 support sessions and also support people to report incidents to the Police.

Our annual conference now has an audience of over 100 people, which sadly shows in North Tyneside how many people feel this is an issue that relates to them . We are getting the message out and we are breaking down barriers between people we support and reporting to the Police. We are moving in the right direction but there is still more to be done, especially in the current climate.

Our sessions also allow people to open up and talk about historical hate crimes. We often see first-hand how emotive this is for people to talk about after 20 – 30 years and the same message seems to come across, that they all felt ‘it’s just what happens to people like me’. It breaks my heart to think that for years people have felt that they have had no voice in society, and that no-one believes them because they have a learning disability – thank goodness we are making progress.

Our vision here at LD:NorthEast is to reassure people that we have 4 key priorities when tackling hate crime, mate crime, scams and exploitation:
• We will listen to you and believe you
• We will support you to report any hate / mate crime, scam or any form of exploitation
• We will work with the local police, CPS, courts and other local partners throughout your journey, supporting you every step of the way
• We will provide emotional support during and after the process

LD:NorthEast will continue to seek funding / donations to enable us to do our work, and we are committed to making North Tyneside a safe community to live and to ensure that home is a safe place to be.

I would like to thank Julie Redpath our Projects Manager here at LD:NorthEast for delivering some brilliant workshops and adapting them to be run online during the pandemic.

Thanks also to Lisa Wild our Development Manager for securing funding to enable us to do this work, and for her amazing visual minutes that capture the thoughts and experiences of people telling their story.

Lastly, thank-you to all of our amazing staff who are committed to being workplace Hate Crime Champions, and to all of the lovely people we support who are starting to trust us and share what are very painful memories and experiences.

We recently made a short film showcase our work and the work of our closest partners, which you can watch now on our videos page. Thank-you to Sgt Claire Kimberley and PC Rachel Nairi from Northumbria Police, Rebecca Ditchburn from Nexus and Sana Ilyas from Victims First Northumbria for giving up your valuable time to take part.