Looking up at Franklyn, never down

The young man halfway up this enormous climbing wall is Franklyn. He’s 27 years old and he has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. His support worker, Elliott, describes how Franklyn has defied expectations and broken down barrier after barrier.

Franklyn has lived at a specialist residential care home run by Sense for seven years now. He’s deafblind, with limited vision in his left eye only and very limited hearing. During these years together, Franklyn’s given us a really strong impression of who he is and what he enjoys in life.

You can access the audio described version here.

Like other men his age, he’s active and full of energy, always seeking out activities that involve movement. Over time, we worked with him to build his confidence in leaving the house so that he could do things like walking in his local park and going swimming.

When we first thought of rock climbing, no one was sure how he’d take to it. He’d never tried anything like it before.

Reaching new heights

Houe securing Franklyn’s harness before a climb.

Sense started doing inclusive climbing sessions at The Castle Climbing Centre, thanks to funding from Sport England. It was a chance for people with complex disabilities to do something completely new. They’d be able to go to a weekly session with an instructor and see what they thought.

Rock climbing is great for building muscle strength and improving flexibility. We thought it would be a good match for Franklyn who loves tactile and physical activities. It would also be an opportunity for him to develop skills of concentration and determination.

We communicate with Franklyn about climbing using what’s called an object of reference, which you see more about in the video. He was up for giving it a go. For the first couple of weeks, he spent his time at the session becoming familiar with the environment. He got to meet the instructor, Houe, and get a feel for the space and equipment.

Then he was off! He really took to it and, by week eight, Franklyn was regularly climbing to the top and starting to explore the full wall. We started putting together an achievement log to encourage him to build on his new skills and keep breaking through barriers.

The opportunity to defy expectations

Franklyn approaching the top of a giant climbing wall, with his instructor Houe.

His mum and everyone around him at Sense have seen a big change in him. Both physically and socially. The sessions have meant he has been able to develop a relationship with someone outside of Sense, a very trusting relationship with the instructor.

By the end of his third session, there was already a massive improvement in his confidence levels, his strength, his awareness – he’s come a long way and we’re all very proud of him.

Franklyn’s shown everyone the value of looking first at what people can do, not what they can’t. If you give someone an opportunity, you’ll be surprised how much they can achieve.