by Alison Thwaite, Employment Development Officer (North)
On 20th January 2017, we were delighted to welcome WorkFit members along with parents, WorkFit employers, professionals and practitioners from a range of services providers including education and social care to the WorkFit Yorkshire and Humber Regional Conference.
The conference was supported and part-funded by the Wakefield and District Down’s
Syndrome Support Group.
The event took place in Wakefield and guests heard about WorkFit and our successful jobseekers. We had presentations from four candidates: Annabel, Ben, Emily and Sam, who have been successfully placed in work. We also heard from employers who have signed up to the programme including Scartho Medical Centre and the Environment Agency’s National Laboratory Service who have employed people across the UK. They focused on how WorkFit has helped to enrich their workplace culture and up-skill their staff. They also talked about the benefits of WorkFit’s free training, advice and on-going support.
Annabel, told attendees what her job means to her; “I work 6 hours a week and I have lots of duties that I am responsible for. I have completed online training which I enjoyed. I enjoy coming to work; I like everyone I work with. My aim is to be promoted.”
Candice Baxter, Annabel’s mum, told us about her experiences of the WorkFit programme from a parent’s perspective; “Debbee, Rachel and the team have given Annabel a wonderful opportunity. My sincere thanks go to them and to Alison at the WorkFit Programme, not only for turning Annie’s dream into a reality, but for having the vision to look beyond the disability and to recognise the potential behind it. I can’t put a measure on what it means to her to be ‘part of a team’ – to feel valued.
I don’t have the words to explain what it means for her to be able to say, ‘I have a job’ yet, I KNOW with certainty, that these things are as important to Annabel as they are to you and me. And if each and every one of us remembers just one thing from today’s Conference, let it be this…..that our children have ALWAYS had a lot to offer; they too, have hopes, dreams and ambitions, and given the chance they can, not only enrich their own lives, but the lives of those around them.”
Scartho Medical Centre employ Annabel in permanent, paid and part-time work. Debbee Walker, Practice Manager said: “She takes her work responsibility very seriously and rises to any challenge. She holds her own with the office camaraderie and is a pleasure to work with as she is always cheerful with a smile and a word for all.
The DSA WorkFit programme opened the door for us to recruit from a diverse pool of motivated jobseekers and employing Annie means we give something back to the local community which we serve, and gives us better understanding of how to give the best possible care to patients with Learning Disabilities. To quote our senior partner: recruiting Annie is the best thing we have even done as a practice!”
Sam, who is a Cafe Assistant in his local town told us: “My favourite job is taking food out to the customers. I listen for the bell which tells me that the food is ready to take out. When it’s not too busy in the cafe, I take orders from the customers then I like to help the staff in the kitchen to prepare the hot drinks. I look forward to going to work every Tuesday and Wednesday morning. It makes me feel happy. I get a payslip at the end of each month which tells me how much I have got paid. I am saving the money I earn to buy a television for my room. I really enjoy working at Country Harvest and tell all my friends and family about my work.”
Sam’s manager Mike Clark said: “Sam is very keen to learn and it is great to see his enthusiasm and willingness when he is set a task. He takes everything on board and strives to do his best. Sam enjoys serving customers and having a chat with some of the locals and regulars he now recognises. This experience has given Sam the opportunity to work and develop within a business team. We could not be happier seeing Sam grow in confidence and determination, whilst he is developing new skills, which will hopefully help him towards his independence.”
Sam’s mum Joyce addressed the conference, saying; “My husband and I have seen Sam grow in confidence since starting his new job. He is listening more intently to instructions and his speech is becoming a lot clearer. We have seen a big change in him as a result of his work which continues throughout his other activities during the week. WorkFit demonstrates that with the right encouragement and support he can achieve his potential and so much more.”
Over lunch, guests had the opportunity to network and share their experiences. Candidates were also able to meet other jobseekers, talk about their experience of the WorkFit programme and their thoughts on the support they received including creating their CV and the work trial/informal interview experience.
Geoff Tully, chair of Wakefield and District Down’s Syndrome Support Group spoke about his involvement in the programme and how impressed the group were by the success stories in the area. He also provided an overview of the great range of services and activities the group facilitates for their members. Our huge thanks go to the group for part-funding the conference and providing support on the day.
We then heard from Emily, who is a salon assistant at The Cutting Room. Emily and her parents talked about her job and what it means to her. We heard about how she keeps the salon clean and tidy, looking after the large product ranges and helping customers.
Salon Manager, Leigh Rands said; “With support from the team Emily has spent time learning how to put her work into segments which allows her to manage her time more productively. Emily works smarter and at a quicker space, using her time management skills. Emily has become a team member in her own right laughing and joking with all the team and regular customers.
Emily will sing along to the music in the salon and share her knowledge of the song or singers name. She has brought fun and laughter to the salon and has a positive motivational approach to her work.”
Emily told us that she “likes to spend her money on Costa Coffee, clothes and magazines”.
She told everyone how proud she was of her job and her parents Paul and Sheron shared how keen Emily is to get to work, travel independently and take responsibility for her time-keeping. She is well-known in the salon and enjoys going to the local deli for her mid-morning snack.
Finally, we heard from Ben who had just started his job at the National Laboratory Service (Environment Agency) three days before the conference. Ben was shy, but managed to tell everyone that his job makes him very happy and proud. His mum Angie told us, “We can’t quite believe it; just a short time ago I heard about WorkFit and decided to get in touch and find out more. Alison arrived at our house one night last October and talked to Ben about what kind of job he wanted and his hobbies and interests. Soon after, she told us about the possibility of an opportunity for Ben with the Environment Agency and since then we are now hoping that Ben will have something that we never thought possible . . not just a job, but a career.”
John Fardon and Joanne Senior, from the National Laboratory Service (part of the Environment Agency) delivered a presentation about the work that they do in their laboratory and talked about how Ben has just started his role there. They shared their steps on their WorkFit journey and about how they have made some changes to their information to make it more accessible for the team.
Joanne told us, “We are committed to making our organisation as diverse as the environment. It’s our job to protect and improve the environment and make this a better place to live. Our environment is diverse and so are the people we work with.” Labs in other parts of the country are at various stages of the WorkFit journey and are hugely positive about the programme and the outcomes so far.
Jackie Codman, Partnership Support Manager, West Yorkshire District, gave us a detailed and informative presentation about Personal Independence Payments (PIPS). She advised on how PIPs is replacing Disability Living Allowance, how to claim it along with details of other benefits and provided scenarios on how they are applied.
It was wonderful to let delegates know that 10 of the 16 WorkFit candidates that have been assessed in the region have been placed into employment opportunities, the vast majority of which are paid.
Event feedback showed that the conference was very well received… “Inspirational”, “A really enjoyable and informative day”, “a very worthwhile service”, “great to see so many success stories” and ”leaving here today very motivated.”
Presentations from Annabel, Ben, Emily and Sam were hugely inspiring and they all helped to draw the winning numbers in the free raffle of DSA t-shirts.
My thanks to everyone involved and in particular to Geoff, Neil, John, Alexis and Alicia from the Wakefield group 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
For more information visit the WorkFit website https://www.dsworkfit.org.uk/