A Preston and South Ribble dog walking service with a difference is providing opportunities to people with disabilities.Advertisement
Barks and Recreation supports adults who have a learning disability to make money from walking dogs.
The social enterprise is run by Stephen Brown, who moved to Preston from Southport to study at UCLan, before starting a career in social care.
Stephen said: “The idea for Barks and Recreation came after years of working with adults who have a learning disability who love dogs. These people would benefit in so many ways from spending time with dogs, but their circumstances wouldn’t allow for them to have one of their own.
“The dog walking itself is much like any other dog walking service. We go from house to house throughout the day walking dogs for people while they’re at work, although we only walk dogs from one household at a time.
“By walking dogs for a regular set of lovely customers we know the history, traits and character of every dog we walk and are able to suitably match them with people who might vary in what dogs they’re comfortably able to walk.”
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Stephen says while the emphasis is on making sure the people they support have fun, there are many additional benefits for them.
“Getting people out and about walking dogs is obviously great for their physical health. The exercise and time spent in green spaces with dogs is beneficial for people’s mental wellbeing too.
“It’s also a good way to develop social skills. Two gentlemen who share their support one afternoon a week have been reunited through our service after being at college together a few years ago. They’re both big PNE fans and enjoy computer games, so we suggested they walk together to help rebuild that friendship.
“It’s difficult for any adult to make new friends, and often even harder for people who have a learning disability – especially if they’re living alone or with parents.”
In addition to the standard dog walking service, Barks and Recreation also provides a specialist ‘extra care’ service to dog owners who are older or have a physical disability.
Stephen said: “The aim of this service is to prevent social isolation by enabling dog owners to continue to look after their dogs – and prevent a situation where an isolated person has to re-home their sole companion.
“Because we only walk one dog at a time we’re able to dedicate the whole visit to whatever their dogs need us for, not just a walk.
“One of our customers has a team of carers who visit to help her, but obviously not to help her look after her dog. So we do all the little things that the dog needs that the owner isn’t able to do herself, such as opening tins, making sure there’s enough dog food in, assisting with making vet or grooming appointments, etc.
“The idea for the ‘extra care’ service came about from working at an NHS crisis team in Bolton, where I experienced dog owners in desperate situations who had care teams coming in that, instead of helping the individual with their dog, would insist the dog was ‘put away’ before the carers arrived. In some circumstances dogs would be re-homed because owners weren’t considered able to look after their dog anymore.
“It sounds drastic but for many people who are isolated their dog is their reason for living – something beautifully but heart-wrenchingly demonstrated by Ricky Gervais in Netflix comedy After Life.”
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As for so many businesses, Covid-19 has had an impact on Barks and Recreation.
“With there being fewer services and activities available for people to access since the Covid-19 lockdown, demand for our support services has grown. But with many people now working from home, some sadly losing their jobs, and some taking advantage of the stamp-duty offer and moving away from the area, we’ve seen a big reduction in the number of dogs to walk.
“I’m spending a lot of time trying to find different ways to reach out to people who would like their dogs walking, to help re-fill our dog schedule.”
Longer term, Stephen says he is hoping to extend the Barks and Recreation service by finding individuals or organisations to partner with in nearby areas.
To find out more about the service, visit the Barks and Recreation website.
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What do you think of the Barks and Recreation service? Let us know in the comments.