New Belfast ‘Hub’ will offer specialist support and activities for disabled people and their families

Two men sitting next to each other on a sofa. They're both holding cups of tea and are laughing.
Pictured – Jamie (left), from Belfast, is blind and has learning disabilities. He says he is looking forward to using the services at Sense Hub Belfast when it opens.

20 June 2024 – The disability charity, Sense, has announced that it will open a major new centre in Belfast next year, offering specialist support and services to people with complex disabilities and their families.

Sense will redevelop the Belfast Resource Centre on Annadale Avenue, currently run by the MS Society, transforming it into ‘Sense Hub Belfast’, a thriving community space where disabled people of all ages can meet and take part in activities.

Sense Hub Belfast will offer a range of commissioned and charitably funded services to support children and adults with complex disabilities. This will include a new adult day centre, arts and sports activities, and play sessions, where disabled children can learn to communicate, develop and connect with their families.

There are approximately 52,000 people with complex disabilities living in Northern Ireland, with one in five based in Belfast. Sense Hub Belfast will support over a thousand people by 2026.

Sense, which has operated in Northern Ireland for 30 years, hope the new hub will help tackle loneliness which is disproportionately high amongst disabled people in Northern Ireland. According to their research*, more than two thirds (68 per cent) of people with complex disabilities feel lonely, with four in five (80 per cent) facing difficulties to socialise.

Sense is working closely with the MS Society on the plans, and the charity will remain on the site, continuing to deliver support and activities for people living with multiple sclerosis (MS).

The MS Society has been providing services and support for people affected by MS from the centre since 1998. Over 150,000 live with MS in the UK. It’s a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord and this impacts how people move, think and feel.

Richard Kramer, Chief Executive of Sense, said:

“Sense has been supporting people with complex disabilities, such as deafblindness, in Northern Ireland for 30 years.

“Sense Hub Belfast will build on this work, creating an inclusive and dynamic centre, where disabled people and their families can meet and share new experiences, supported by specialist staff.

“Based in the heart of the community, with access to local shops, outdoor spaces, pubs and cafes, the hub promises to have a wider impact, bringing disabled and non-disabled people together and bringing down loneliness.

“We’re really excited to be working with MS Society, who will continue to deliver services from the site for people affected by MS. We’re looking forward to collaborating with them on ways to maximise our reach within the local communities.”

Stewart Finn, Northern Ireland Director for MS Society, said:

“We’re excited to be working with Sense. We hope our new partnership improves things for both our communities and we’re very positive about what we can achieve together.

“The centre will be extensively refurbished to create modern, purpose-built spaces that both communities can use and enjoy for years to come. We know how important it is to people with MS and so we’re pleased to say the services and activities – including counselling, Pilates, yoga and physio – will be staying the same.

“Over 5,300 people live with MS in Northern Ireland. Symptoms are different for everyone and often invisible. The MS Society has active groups and provides services right across NI. This agreement means the MS Society can continue to provide in person services in Belfast for years to come, with arrangement for the first 12 years already in place.”

Work will begin on the site this summer and has already received the backing of the Garfield Weston Foundation (£250,000), Pears Foundation (£150,000) and Wolfson Foundation (£75,000). A Fundraising Board has been established, bringing together passionate and committed Sense supporters in Northern Ireland, comprising Dr Stephen Kingon, Stuart John, Johnathan Henry, Allan Newbronner, Michelle McTernan and Peter Lavery. Together they will help raise funds and profile for the new hub.

Case studies:

Jamie:

Jamie, aged 25, is blind and has learning disabilities. He lives in supported living accommodation in Belfast, run by Sense, but currently must travel to Carrickfergus for his day service. The creation of the new hub will mean Jamie can now receive specialist services and support close to his home:

“The new hub means my service will be closer to my house. That’s brilliant because I really enjoy it.

“I can’t wait to learn to bake cakes in the kitchen and develop my computer skills in the tech suite. That will be cool”.

Simon:

Pictured – Simon from Bangor has MS, is an MS Society volunteer and is excited to see the two charities working together in the same building.

Simon, 44, has MS and lives in Bangor. He’s a volunteer with the MS Society and has supported Sense’s work through fundraising:

“I think it’s really great to see these two brilliant organisations working side by side and together in the same building. I am excited to see charities who work with passion and focus on the people they represent share a space together. I can see it benefiting everyone.

“The MS Society does excellent work, I have been volunteering with them for years. We provide great service and support to the MS Community in Northern Ireland as well as funding research to stop MS. Sense does vital work with both kids and adults helping them feel less isolated and potentially opening up a form of communication, where none existed before.”

For more information visit: www.sense.org.uk/sense-hub-northern-ireland/

ENDS

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Research

*The research was conducted by Censuswide, on behalf of Sense.

501 people with complex disabilities in Northern Ireland were surveyed between 26 April to 3 May 2024.

Censuswide abide by and employ members of the Market Research Society which is based on the ESOMAR principles.