Leeds School of Social Sciences

Connecting in Isolation – An Online Café

Hear from two of our final year BSc (Hons) Speech and Language Therapy students about continuing their training and supporting 'Come Together' Communications Cafes.
Hi, we’re Charly and Sinéad. We are final year students studying speech and language therapy at Leeds Beckett University. Before the Coronavirus pandemic, we were due to commence a 6-week clinical placement. Charly was going to be based in an Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) clinic working with adults with voice impairments, whilst Sinéad was due to start a split placement working with children being seen by a Cleft Palate team and people with Dementia. When these opportunities were no longer possible due to the virus outbreak, our wonderful course team managed to secure an alternative placement opportunity which allowed us to continue with our training.  

Initially, our alternative placement was designed to simulate different placement experiences through carefully structured workbook tasks. However, thanks to the generosity of clients voluntarily offering their time, and the hard work and determination of our course team and external speech and language therapists, we have been able to access some client interaction through telehealth. One of these opportunities involved working closely with London-based independent speech and language therapist, Sam Bowman. Sam founded Talkabout Speech Therapy, a specialist speech and language service for adults with communication and swallowing difficulties, in 2012. As a result of the guidelines put in place to protect the most vulnerable in society from coronavirus, many people with communication difficulties found themselves isolated with limited opportunities for social interaction. In response to this, Sam created Zoom video café, ‘Come Together’, a communication-friendly place to meet others and share thoughts and ideas. The café is run weekly and is open to people with communication difficulties, carers and family to come and have a chat or just listen. Their communication difficulties may be as a result of a stroke, an acquired brain injury, or a developmental condition such as cerebral palsy. Each week we discuss new topics or areas of interest developed in consultation with those attending the café. Last week we chatted about films and TV series – something we’ve all being watching a lot of! There is also the opportunity for café goers to have a 1:1 session with one of the speech and language therapy students before the café to practise what they want to say. The café is a great way for people with communication difficulties to work on their individual therapy skills in a safe environment. 

Sam has kindly welcomed us and students from City University, London, into the team running the café. We work together to plan the café and create a fun, topical quiz to do every Thursday. Whilst we have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone at the café and participating in the discussions, we have also developed important skills we can take forward into our careers as newly qualified professionals. Examples include facilitating the group conversations, ensuring all café goers have an opportunity to participate if they wish and adapting our communication to meet the needs of people with a variety of communication difficulties. In addition to this, we have learned key skills in relation to interacting with clients on zoom and utilising everything technology has to offer in order to make it a fun and enjoyable experience for everyone.  Lastly, we continue to utilise our planning and organisational skills while working as part of a team to deliver an interactive café each week. 

We are so grateful to have been given the amazing opportunity to work alongside innovative speech and language therapists like Sam and her colleague Elisabeth, who have created an online platform for people with communication difficulties who would otherwise be isolated during this time.  

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