Reconnect – originally known as Garden Reach – was established in 1991 by Anne Erwin, a then Superintendent Physiotherapist at the Royal Victoria Hospital. At that time, Anne recognized that after individuals with brain injury had been discharged from hospital, there was very little available in the form of ongoing rehabilitation and care. Through Garden Reach, brain injured individuals could access a means to recovering social, physical and cognitive skills either lost or impaired by injury.
For the first ten years of existence, Garden Reach was based on an industrial site in East Belfast and worked with 12 clients. Resources were basic but the Laganside Corporation allowed use of the site rent free.
Rehabilitation was mainly delivered through training in Horticulture and plants, which were grown by the clients from seed, flourished and in turn, were sold to the public, generating much needed income.
In 1999, NIE very generously agreed to lease 2.7 acres of greenbelt land free of rent for new premises as client numbers had doubled and the old site was no longer a viable option. Planning permission was eventually granted and funds for the project came from the European Regional Development Fund, the Big Lottery plus other significant contributions by the Community Fund, Ulster Garden Villages Ltd and Bombardier.
Garden Reach was rebranded as Reconnect and the new facility opened in 2002.
Since Reconnect was established, it has helped clients with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) to realise their maximum potential for social and vocational reintegration through the delivery of training in areas such as Essential Skills, Information Technology, Business administration and Horticulture. Reconnect is an accredited training centre so individuals can work toward recognised qualifications. All clients who undertake accredited training do so at a level appropriate to their abilities
Reconnect, both professionally and in responding to service user views, recognises the benefits arising from socio-vocational activities so offers a complementary programme which includes DIY, furniture restoration, woodwork, grounds maintenance, catering, arts and crafts, bowling, boccia, curling and football. Personal fitness is available as part of the training programme and is delivered in a community setting by a qualified coach.
Training programmes are designed according to the goals, capabilities and interests of the individual, are delivered on a one-to-one and/or group basis. Reconnect does not work to a fixed term of placement but delivers a service for as long as the client needs it. This is a particularly valuable aspect of the service, given the lack of age appropriate options available to a client group who can sustain their injury in childhood or early adulthood.
Reconnect has adapted to the varied needs of referred clients by offering new training opportunities which are unique within the ABI service community. The Supported Employment Project (SEP) was designed and developed specifically for clients who were better suited to outdoor work rather than a class based environment. The SEP gives Reconnect clients the opportunity to experience a return to the working environment whilst still under the umbrella of the Reconnect service.
Reconnect has addressed an unmet ABI client need by starting a Saturday Club. This is accessible to both clients and carers.
Reconnect employs qualified teaching staff who deliver individual training programmes, complete with measurable outcomes, regular reviews and assessment. Reconnect offers personal transport subject to numbers/area and is currently reviewing transport needs and pricing additional vehicles.
Reconnect has shown both willingness and capability to work with individuals with more challenging behaviours to include addiction and social inappropriateness. This has ensured that the most vulnerable and marginalised individuals in society have an equal opportunity to access our service.
Reconnect is proactive in seeking new referrals and is currently exploring the development of a cross-referral process within other community services for those clients who present with the same cognitive and behavioural issues as ABI.
As a service, Reconnect offers excellent training facilities, qualified and committed staff, individual training programmes, transport subject to numbers and area, measurable outcomes, regular reviews and assessment and the scope to further develop and expand through Outreach programmes and partnership working.