A charity providing a befriending service to around 200 disabled youngsters in the Borders has been shortlisted for a national award for the first time.
Interest Link Borders, which has bases in Hawick, Galashiels, Peebles and Duns, is up for an equality and diversity accolade at this year’s National Youth Work Awards.
The charity, formed in 1990, runs more than a dozen different fortnightly befriending groups from community hubs and schools across the region, benefiting more than 200 youngsters.
“We are providing support to a section of the community that cannot go to mainstream youth groups,” project co-ordinator Andrew Findlay said.
“Interest Link is possibly the only youth service in Scotland where large numbers of children and young people with learning disabilities can be in youth groups with their non-disabled peers.
“The groups do the same range of activities as mainstream groups, chosen by all involved and including overnight trips, and everything is made possible by our amazing paid and volunteer youth workers who are always prepared to go the extra mile.”
Around 200 volunteers of all ages, split across four branches, support around 200 socially isolated children from as young as eight, youths and adults with learning disabilities through one-to-one companionships and friendship groups.
Andrew added: “All the people we work with have a lifelong condition that affects their development and means they need help to understand information, learn skills and live independently.
“Cerebral palsy, Downs syndrome or autism are often involved and up to 40% have suffer from epilepsy or sensory impairments.
“We work to improve members’ happiness, confidence, self-esteem and social skills and provide short breaks for their carers.”
One-to-one links give people the chance to do ordinary community activities with a compatible volunteer, while group activities also benefit from external tutors and family and friend involvement.
The charity also runs four in-school lunchtime groups where children unable to attend evening meetings are befriended by high school pupils in Selkirk, Peebles, Hawick and Duns and younger children from Knowepark Primary School, Selkirk.
Interest Link Borders will find out how it will fare at this year’s National Youth Work Awards on Wednesday, March 13, at Glasgow’s Crowne Plaza.