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"now he knows all his way round"

Travelling independently is a key part of self-building a life in people’s communities. Our research involved looking at two urban areas and two rural areas. Our findings suggest that poor transportation links are a significant barrier to people with learning disabilities self-building their lives. To make use of community facilities, and to see friends, people need to be able to make their way around the local area at the very least. This can be impeded by poor travel infrastructure as much as under-developed travel skills and confidence. As Sian explained in one example,

"Robert came on our development group. We asked Robert to be an ambassador. So he started befriending another person with a learning disability and then he showed him … Right, this guy didn’t know how to get the bus from [the next town] to [here], to come to our centre. So he took him a couple of times. And then we drew a picture of where to go, you know, how to get off the bus and where to go down. So Robert let him go on his own one day and he made it here. So now he knows all his way round [this town]" (Sian, Volunteering Support.

Independent travel can promote anxiety for some parents because of the risks involved. Families were often heavily involved in helping people to learn the important routes and what to do when things don’t go to plan. This was sometimes beyond the remit of organisations and not an area where peers were heavily involved in helping each other. For self-build initiatives to survive, however, the matter of people getting around has to be resolved.

"Some of them walk here. Some of them get dropped off by managers, care support staff and some of them have actually learned travel training through their care providers. They actually get here independently. So, we’ve got a risk assessment that we say, right, Joe Bloggs has arrived. We’re going to let you know that they’ve arrived and then they might catch the bus at nine minutes past three and we will call the care provider and go, just to let you know, they’re on the bus, because it’s literally just outside. So, then it’s creating independence for them, so they can come here." (Becky, Evolve)

"one of our more recent lads, he … had to get here at eight o’clock in the morning … because of his transport and his parents’ arrangements, so I just adjusted the rota a little bit so that somebody’s here 8.00 till 3.30 and that’s the way we want to work" (Hazel, Farm Day Activities)

What learning is involved?

Learning to travel independently is a big deal for people. The skills may not have been acquired in school or college because, ‘you can do travel training with somebody but unless somebody has got a reason to travel it's … a complete waste of time’ (Community Credit Scheme). Learning to travel independently needs to happen in real life contexts with real life risks. Micro-organisations and other schemes have learned that they need to attend to the travel issues for the scheme to do what it sets out to do. Everyone involved with this learns from experience that independent travel – including travelling with peers - transforms lives.

What more can be done?

Local authorities can look at systemic solutions to prevent further decay of bus services and the isolation this can bring with it. People in organisations can plan with the transport and travel challenges in mind from the start. They can consider how they can support volunteers and peers to support others with schemes like travel buddies until they gain independence.