A parent’s perspective of a volunteer placement at Oxfam

Last year, we met with Florence and her mum Jenny to talk about the WorkFit programme and how we could support Florence in her role. We contacted a local Oxfam store to talk about a volunteer opportunity and Graham, a long term volunteer and his manager were both very open to meeting Florence. In January this year, Florence began working 4 hours a week.

Oxfam staff were given WorkFit training to give them an understanding of Down’s syndrome. The feedback from the training was very positive, really interesting, very valuable and thought-provoking – in my time I have attended countless presentations, this was one of the very best.”

Florence at work at the Oxfam shop where she volunteersFlorence’s mum, Jenny, has seen Florence grow in confidence.

Initially, she was concerned about the support that would be available to Florence: “I would like Florence to be working with an organisation or project that considers parents needs as well, and can help to work them through.”

From the start, the team at Oxfam were supportive; helping to meet Jenny’s needs and providing a valuable experience for Florence. Jenny has shared her thoughts around the travel challenges that Florence has faced: Florence can learn a bus journey quickly, and do it reliably on her own once learnt. She cannot change buses or deal with the unexpected in any way, and as an evidently learning-disabled young woman is very vulnerable, so for her own safety I need to be sure that she has arrived at her destination or at home as expected. She has a tracker phone and is fairly but not completely reliable at phoning-in. ‘Independent’ travel would be limited to places she can access by one bus from home.”

Jenny commented on how Florence felt about starting her new role and gave us her feedback on Florence’s first few weeks in the job:

“Everything seems to be going very well. Florence was very anxious about the visit – as you saw – but after that, happy to go on the first day, and very pleased with herself when she came home. I think that working, joining the world, doing what other people do, has a very direct effect on her confidence. She really likes being in a place where she keeps meeting people she knows and I trust that Graham will look after her there.”

Florence and her fellow volunteers at the Oxfam shopGraham has been impressed by the way that Florence has developed and easily picked up new tasks: It’s a pleasure to have Florence here and we have seen her confidence increase hugely. She was very shy when she first arrived but within a few shifts she was one of the gang, laughing and joking with the rest of us. We really enjoy having her here, we have learnt about how to support someone with Down’s syndrome.”

Jenny has summarised her thoughts on Florence’s volunteer placement, from a parent’s point of view: I find it hard to understand why anyone would not want their son or daughter to be able to have the experiences that other young people have, and take some responsibility, and make a contribution. Florence knows she is doing something real alongside other people, and she values that. It gives her an increased sense of her personal value in the world. She could never articulate that but her behaviour and attitude show that she appreciates it. I am happy for you to share the successful role that Florence has in any way that will promote work experience and work for people with Down’s syndrome, and will encourage employers to join in and offer opportunities.”

Florence has had fantastic support from colleagues, who have been enthusiastic and committed to supporting the WorkFit programme. Our thanks go to Florence and Jenny for sharing their experience of WorkFit and to Graham, Tony and the team at Oxfam for their support.


WorkFit supports people with Down’s syndrome to access meaningful work opportunities that can benefit the rest of their lives.

For more information about WorkFit please contact the team on 0333 12 12 300 or email us on dsworkfit@downs-syndrome.org.uk

If you would like to find a job with WorkFit, click here to register now!

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