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We start Learning Disability Week 2024 (17-23 June) with a touching story: a long-awaited family reunion between Lukasz (pronounced Loo-kash), who we support in our Elm Tree House residential service in Rochdale, Lancashire, and his family in BiałystokPoland.

The following story is told by Michael Walker, Elm Tree House’s Registered Manager, who accompanied Lukasz on his life-changing trip:

This isn't just a story about a holiday; it’s about Lukasz being reunited with his family in his home country after 18 years. There were many hurdles and barriers along the way, but to understand the full story, we need to go back two years.

Lukasz, in his early thirties, moved to the UK from his homeland Poland when he was a teenager, accompanied by his mum.

Sadly, when his mum passed away, Lukasz lost touch with his family back in Poland. He’s spent much of his adult life receiving support from various care providers and has spent the last five years being supported by Lifeways at Elm Tree House.

Caption: Lukasz with Elm Tree House' Registered Manager, Michael Walker, at Manchester Airport, as the trip began.

Unfortunately, in previous placements, Lukasz hadn’t always been given opportunities to travel anywhere – let alone abroad.

Then, two years ago, Lukasz first told his support team about his dream of returning to his hometown of Białystok, Poland, to visit his family.

Making a dream reality

With the support of his keyworker at the time, Tracey Crabtree, Lukasz developed a PATH – a creative planning process outlining his hopes and dreams for the future. Of course, his biggest ambition now was to go to Poland and be reunited with his family.

Caption: Lukasz is excited to finally be on the plane. He was given a sunflower lanyard at the airport in the UK and chose to continue wearing it in Poland.

Yet Lukasz found trips of any kind of scale to be overwhelming.

As part of this goal, Lukasz agreed to complete trial runs of day trips and overnight stays in Blackpool.

Although normally a man of few words, Lukasz had previously mentioned that he’d been to Blackpool in the past.

Over the course of a year and a half, Lukasz successfully achieved trips to and from Blackpool, marking a significant milestone for both him and the team at Elm Tree House.

Rigorous planning

Based on these successes, the rigorous planning for the trip to Poland began, to ensure everything ran smoothly. Elm Tree House worked closely with the local authority, Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council, to ensure Lukasz’s safety, recognising the positive risk-taking required.

Caption: In Poland at last! Lukasz and his Team Leader, Sarah Wilkinson, step out into the warm Polish summer at Warsaw Airport, taking a connecting bus to Lukasz's hometown, Bialystok.

Ahead of his visit, Lukasz's family also helped organise activities and communicated with all the relatives who wished to see him.

One of the key family members was his father, with whom Lukasz had had no contact for 18 years.

The long-awaited day finally arrived on 12 May 2024. Lukasz, accompanied by two staff members, Sarah Wilkinson, his team leader, and myself, embarked on the journey of a lifetime. After a four-hour flight, Lukasz arrived in Warsaw and took a bus to Białystok. To our delight and surprise, he immediately started speaking Polish to anyone who would listen!

Caption: Smiles all round as Lukasz and 'Babcia,' his grandmother, visit all the old familiar places in his hometown of Bialystok.

Open arms

The first visit on the agenda was to reunite with his 'Babcia' – which means grandma in Polish. As Lukasz exited the taxi and approached his grandma’s house, he recognised the area he grew up in.

Caption: Lukasz enjoying a sit down with his Babcia.

The emotions of not seeing her for 18 years built up as he walked closer. When the door opened, and his grandma saw him, they greeted each other with open arms and tears their dream of being reunited had finally come true.

Caption: Once in Bialystok, Lukasz wasted no time in re-uniting with his family. Here, he embraces his aunt, Gosha.

Lukasz then met with the rest of his family, including the momentous reunion with his father.

Not a dry eye

Both Lukasz and his father were overjoyed, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the room. Over the five days, Lukasz and his support team spent time with his family and explored his hometown.

Caption: Babcia, Lukasz, and Registered Manager Michael Walker take a walk around Bialystok. Everyone enjoyed the warm weather - unlike back in the UK

Anyone who knows Lukasz, knows his love for lifts, especially the one at his old high school, which they visited daily. Lukasz told us afterwards that seeing his old school lift was one of the highlights of his trip.

Caption: Team Leader Sarah Wilkinson and Lukasz enjoying a lunch of traditional Polish dumplings - it's just another perk of the job!

Positive risk-taking

The outcome of this positive risk-taking was that Lukasz expanded his family network and now keeps in regular contact with his father and other family members. His support team has also since learned how to better personalise Lukasz’s support.

Caption: Sarah Wikinson, Team Leader; Lukasz; Babcia; and Registered Manager Michael Walker pose for a selfie.

For example, Lukasz is now supported to attend a local Polish church, as he did growing up with his family back in Poland. This fact was previously unknown to Elm Tree due to transitions between residential settings.

Elm Tree House now has a deepened relationship with Lukasz's family, and another trip is already being planned. Both parties agree that 18 years of separation is far too long.

Caption: Lukasz' cousin, Emelie, aunt Gosha, and Lukasz, hold hands as they spend time together.

A big thank you to all the staff at Elm Tree House who supported Lukasz and made his dream come true, and to Tracey Crabtree, who has been part of his journey from beginning to end. You have all done an amazing job and changed Lukasz’s life forever!

What Lukasz said after the trip:

“I enjoyed it. My favourite bit was seeing grandma. I liked the Polish food, and I would like to go again.”


About Elm Tree House:

Elm Tree House is a Lifeways residential service in Rochdale, Lancashire. The service offers life-changing residential care for adults with learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions.

About Lifeways:

Lifeways is the UK’s largest team of support professionals providing support for adults in the community.

We support adults with diverse and complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions.

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