by Alison Thwaite, Employment Development Officer (North)
On 11 March 2016, I was delighted to welcome colleagues, WorkFit members, WorkFit employers and South Manchester Down’s Syndrome Support Group along with parents and practitioners from a range of services providers, including education and social care, to the WorkFit North West Regional Conference.
The Down’s Syndrome Association is committed to supporting adults with Down’s syndrome into meaningful work-related activities. These may include paid jobs, volunteering roles, work experience, supported internships and traineeships. The WorkFit programme supports the employment aspirations of people with Down’s syndrome.
The event took place in the heart of Manchester and guests heard more about WorkFit and how it is successfully supporting our jobseekers to secure roles in develop their careers. We heard presentations from five candidates (Tim, below left, and Catherine, below right) who have been successfully placed in work and also from employers who have signed up to the programme.
Two employers, Premier Inn (right) and Edinburgh Woollen Mill spoke about their experiences and how rewarding the WorkFit programme has been in enriching their workplace culture and up skilling their staff. They highlighted the benefits of the free training, advice and support provided by WorkFit and explained how their concerns had been allayed.
Over lunch guests had the opportunity for networking and sharing their experiences with others involved in supported employment, adult services and education. Candidates were also able to meet other jobseekers and talk about their experience of the WorkFit programme and their thoughts about some of the key elements, such as creating their CV and the work trial/informal interview experience.
Teresa Gourley (pictured right, with Diane) of Edinburgh Woollen Mill employs Diane in permanent, paid, part-time work and summed up her experience as follows: “Diane is coming out of her shell more and you can see her confidence growing. She is quite literally a ray of sunshine and she has fit effortlessly into the team. She is a great example of how someone with Down’s syndrome can be a great asset in the workplace. Employing Diane has been an overwhelmingly positive experience for everyone and, on a personal level, it has really made me think about what’s important and how easy it is to be more inclusive when the rewards are a new member of the team who is reliable, motivated, excited to learn and willing to work hard. I’m so glad that I signed up to WorkFit and have been able to give Diane an opportunity to start her career in the retail sector. It’s inspired me to look at other areas where I can make a difference to someone’s life and I would say to any employers out there that they should “go for it” and not be afraid as the positive impact and rewards of participating are amazing”.
Diane spoke about her work at Edinburgh Woollen Mill and the process that she went through with my support to get the job. It was hugely inspiring, as were the presentations from Catherine, Aaron, Tim and Andrea. Diane also agreed to draw the winning numbers (right) in the free raffle that added even more excitement to the day’s events.
John the WorkFit Lead for South Manchester Down’s Syndrome Support Group (SMDSSG) spoke about his involvement with WorkFit and the success stories of candidates in the area. Bernadette gave an overview of the great range of services and activities provided by the group for their members and showed some wonderful pictures.
Examples of feedback from the event showed that it was very well received and overwhelmingly positive. “It was a fantastic celebration of the talents of the young adults you have worked with under the WorkFit banner. I felt the need to email you as I was truly inspired by your approaches. AMAZING! Looking forward to any opportunities we may have in working together in the future” (Practitioner).
It was wonderful to be able to let delegates know that 10 of the 17 candidates that have been assessed in the North West have been placed in employment opportunities, the vast majority of which are paid. This work will continue in the north of England and demonstrates the Down’s Syndrome Association’s commitment to helping it’s members live full and rewarding lives.
“The conference was thoroughly enjoyable and so heartening to hear all the speakers talk so proudly of their working experience. Something that Christopher was touched by also and found uplifting and as given him something to aspire to. He certainly learnt that working would be fun and something to be proud of. Bring it on!! You are doing a marvellous job with the work fit project, Alison and you could see that it was a labour of love for you. I have no doubt that the north of England will have a high success rate with individuals with Down’s syndrome in employment with you at the helm” (Parent of member with DS).
My thanks to everyone involved and in particular to John and Bernadette from SMDSSG, who helped to make this a very special and inspiring conference.
To find out more about WorkFit and how we support people with Down’s syndrome to access meaningful work opportunities that can benefit the rest of their lives, please contact the team on 0333 12 12 300 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org