A life-sized cloth woman from Newcastle has made history on the Isle of Wight by starting work to support people with learning disabilities to make informed and independent choices in life and in love.
In a first for the island, Josephine, an anatomically accurate fabric character licensed from Newcastle-based charity, The Josephine and Jack Project, has joined the Isle of Wight’s Community Learning Disabilities Team. And although she’s only been working across the island for a few short weeks, she’s made such a huge difference to those she works with that she’ll soon be joined by a specially-made, life-sized cloth man.
Community Learning Disability Nurse Sue Smith, who is part of the team, explained: “I met Josephine several years ago in Newcastle and always hoped we’d have one of our own one day as I immediately saw the potential impact of her work, which involves active discussion in small groups about important topics, like consent and contraception.”
Finally, Sue’s vision came true this year when the team took delivery of its own bespoke Josephine, made to unique specifications by talented North East seamstress Sarah Johnson, who has made most of The Josephine and Jack Project’s 11 cloth figures that are working to change lives for the better across the UK.
Sue went on: “All Josephine’s have biological features that help those with learning difficulties to understand and prepare for experiences that affect us all, such as sexual and general health, pregnancy and routine medical procedures, like cervical and breast screening tests.
“But you can also choose exactly how you’d like your Josephine to look, and we added specific characteristics to help those we work with to relate to her more easily, so our Josephine wears a hearing aid and also has a pair of glasses.”
Sue and her team are now in discussions with The Josephine and Jack Project, whose patron is Smack the Pony and Bridget Jones star Sally Phillips, to decide what their new Jack should look like. Meanwhile, Josephine is out in the field assisting her experienced guides, who have undergone extensive training in how to get the best from their new team member.
Simon James, Chief Executive at The Josephine and Jack Project, which holds the Community Organisation of the Year title in the disability category of the National Diversity Awards, said: “We’re thrilled to be working with Sue and her team to support the island’s adults and young people with learning disabilities to lead full and rich lives.
“Our courses reached 1,100 people last year and participants reported an average improvement in wellbeing of almost 12 per cent.”
The project, which has roots in community arts and was highly commended in the Small Charity of the Year category at the North East Charity Awards, recently launched a drive to raise £2,500 to help it realise its ambition that no one in the UK should be more than an hour from a Josephine or Jack session.
As well as the island’s new Josephine and newly-ordered Jack, there are Josephines and Jacks in Scotland, Northumberland and in London working under license to the project.
Simon continued: “Through working with dedicated teams like Sue’s, we’re able to reach even more individuals with our work and every little really does help. We appreciate every bit of support to help us increase our impact, both locally and further afield.”
To donate to the campaign, or to find out more about The Josephine and Jack Project, visit josephineandjackproject.co.uk.