I met Jon and Emma when I was visiting the 18 Plus Club run by Keynsham and District Mencap society, a Gateway Beacon Group. Jon and Emma have been friends for 25 years.

They met at school but their friendship has been kept alive by regular meetings at their Gateway Club.

Jon: I live in Bath in my own flat now. It’s very big, it’s got drawers and it’s got a kitchen. I live on my own but I have loads of support. I have staff in the morning, in the afternoon and they sleep overnight.

Emma: I live in a shared house with Mike and Michelle and one staff member. It’s alright, I’ve got my own bathroom as well.

Jon: Living independently is a great thing, it’s good to get to know new places. Me and Emma go to the Gateway 18 plus on a Thursday and we go on their holidays too.

Emma: And me and Jon usually go swimming together in a Sunday morning – and he always beats me!

Jon: We went to school together too.

Emma: We were in the same class.

Jon: Me and Emma met when we were secondary school. We did singing classes together – I think I was the best! And we used to have lunch together in the big hall.

Emma: We sometimes had a packed lunch didn’t we?

Jon: It took us a bit of time to become friends – there was a lot of us in our school.

Emma: And we did a play at school! I’m trying to remember the name of it! It was Grease! I remember Sandra Cotton, one of the teachers, played the piano. You were Danny, weren’t you?

Jon: And you were Sandy weren’t you? We really enjoyed it.

Emma: It was a big stage though wasn’t it Jon?

Jon: It was, it was a bit scary to get up there. After school I went to college, first of all the City of Bath, then the City of Bristol then North Radstock. College was the best.

Emma: I went to Orchard College. It was OK, but a bit boring. I liked doing puppet making though.

Jon: Me and Emma were such good friends at school - I think that is why we are still friends now.

Emma: But we don’t phone each other do we?

Jon: No, Michael phones me, but you don’t. Michael is a good friend of ours as well. We all go to the swimming galas together.

Emma: We go on holiday every year with the Gateway Club. We have a big 18 Plus holiday. We’ve been all over. Once we went to Cornwall and it was my birthday.

Jon: I’m trying to remember what we did on your birthday. We were…

Emma: Drunk!

Jon: No! We got you a card and a birthday cake. It was a good surprise. And I gave you a present. That was the best Gateway trip. I think life would be different without friends. Friendships are important – to keep in touch with each other and to have lots of things to talk about.

Emma: Every time we go swimming together we normally have good chats don’t we?

Jon: I used to swim with a float for a few years but now I swim without one. I swim on my back usually.

Emma: I’ve just remembered, in school, there was a big rainbow in the dining hall.

Jon: It was beautiful.

Emma: All the colours of the rainbow.

Keynsham and District Mencap partnered with Mencap to become a Beacon 2.5 years ago. Beacons were identified by Mencap out of a network of over 250 Gateway clubs to be examples of high quality social clubs for people with a learning disability.

Keynsham Mencap have achieved huge amounts as a Beacon with setting up a new club, 'Go Explore' for 18-25 years olds, launching a new website, developing their sports and physical activities with a new Boccia club and their football team winning the league, and setting up a formal members committee, to increase member inclusion within the group.

Alongside this they have developed a network of clubs within the South West to share their learning and expertise.

Find your nearest local group