Celebrating Three Years of WorkFit Wales at The Senedd

WorkFit Wales celebrated three successful years on 22 May 2017, at a reception hosted by Julie James, Welsh Government Assembly Minister for Skills and Science, at The Senedd in Cardiff Bay.

Over 80 people from all across Wales attended the reception. The attendees represented a wide range of people: young people and adults with Down’s syndrome, parents, support workers/carers, employers, representatives from schools and colleges across the country and service providers who have supported the project over the last three years.

The event was opened by Julian Hallett, the DSA Services Development Manager, who spoke of his delight at the progress made by WorkFit Wales. He recalled attending a similar event four years ago when the project was conceived, and how it became a reality in June 2014 with a grant award from Big Lottery Wales. Julian was honoured to introduce Edwyn Williams, Head of the Employment Devolution Unit for the Welsh Government, who spoke about the policy surrounding employment for disabled adults in Wales.

Simon James (DSA, Employment Development Officer Wales) described the impact that WorkFit Wales has had since its launch in October 2014, and how it has supported young people and their families to find suitable work opportunities.

Simon summarised the achievements in Wales to date:

  • 57 candidates have accessed support from the project
  • 37 candidates have benefited from mainstream work, with many candidates benefiting from 2 or 3 different opportunities
  • 19 candidates have secured paid work
  • 49 employer training sessions have been delivered
  • over 250 employees have now benefited from Down’s syndrome awareness training

Although employment is the main focus of the project, WorkFit is also able to offer people with Down’s syndrome and their families advice on benefits. With the support of the DSA’s benefit officers, whose guidance has been invaluable, many are now are receiving the correct benefits.

Simon finished by discussing how WorkFit in Wales has assisted candidates in accessing the vital support provided by the DSA’s Information Team. The information team have been able to provide support in areas including education, social care, health and wellbeing and local support groups.

The audience was then treated to the premiere of two WorkFit Wales videos.

A highlight of the event was hearing directly from some WorkFit candidates and their employers about their experiences.

Greggs have been a wonderful supporter of the project over the last 12 months. Beckie Rowlands (Recruitment Advisor for Community Placements) spoke on behalf of the shops, saying that “WorkFit has provided Greggs with quality training and helped us to develop opportunities for young people with Down’s syndrome in several of our shops. It has made us as an organisation more confident of supporting a person with Down’s syndrome and the feedback from the shops and all staff has been very positive indeed, we look forward to developing further opportunities and continuing our involvement with WorkFit .”

Helen, Rhys and Luke then spoke about what their jobs at Greggs mean to them and how life had changed for the better since they had found paid work. Luke spoke first, saying: “I love my job; my colleagues are great and make me feel welcome.”

Helen also spoke of her delight, saying: WorkFit has supported me into the job I love; I look forward to going to work every day.”

Rhys agreed with both of them, commenting that: I love going to work. I feel proud because I have learnt new things and I work hard. I enjoy working with nice people and meeting people who come in to buy things and this makes me feel more confident”.

Parents play an important role and we meet many passionate parents who want the very best opportunities for their sons and daughters. Rhys’s mother Angela gave a wonderful speech highlighting the positive impact from a parent’s perspective.

Angela said: As parents, my husband and I always wanted Rhys to have the same opportunities as other young people as well as much independence as possible. He has always worked hard to achieve things in life such as reading and learning to ride a bike and has had to learn to persevere to get to do this. WorkFit has provided a support system to help Rhys to make contact with suitable employers as well as ensuring that Rhys’s experiences have been positive from the moment he arrived in work. We are extremely proud that he is now working at Greggs and it is so good to see a business welcoming and valuing a person with Downs’s syndrome as a member of their workforce. It also makes us feel positive about the future because the more people who are seen working in our communities, the more this will develop positive images and attitudes towards people with Down’s syndrome”.

The attendees also heard talks from Dave Enright, who works in the Welsh heritage sector with Matthew.

WorkFit has had a major impact at our museum. Over 3 training sessions more than 40 staff at the museum have benefited from the Down’s syndrome awareness training and the feedback from all staff has been wonderful. With WorkFit’s support we have been able to develop an opportunity for Matthew initially as a volunteer and then into a paid role. We now feel more confident of supporting a person with Down’s syndrome and the on-going support from WorkFit has been wonderful”.

Matthew spoke of his delight of his placement, saying that: “I love working at the museum with so many wonderful colleagues. 12 months ago I had no job and was bored and wondering if I would ever get a job but now with the support from WorkFit I have 2 paid jobs which I love”.

WorkFit Wales has worked closely with the South West Employment Institute for the last three years. Dr Stephen Beyer and Ruth Townsley have been monitoring and evaluating the project since its launch. Dr Beyer and Ruth have collected and evaluated data from candidate’s right across Wales, looking at their “journey” since the project launch.

Dr Beyer and Ruth will be writing up their report over the coming months and hope to complete the work by September 2017. Dr Beyer gave us some early feedback during the event and the signs are that WorkFit is making a really positive impact in Wales.

We’ve received some great feedback about the event and we look forward to doing it all again soon!

WorkFit would like to thank Julie James AM for sponsoring the event and allowing us to host it at The Senedd. It was a fantastic venue for the reception and all the staff at The Senedd gave WorkFit and our guests a lovely welcome. We would also like to thank Edwyn Williams for speaking on the day and we look forward to working with Edwyn and Welsh Government in securing a long term future for WorkFit in Wales.

WorkFit would like to thank everyone that has supported the project over the last three years especially the people with Down’s syndrome, their families and carers, schools and colleges and the wonderful employers that we have met along the way. 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 dsworkfit@downs-syndrome.org.uk

For more information visit the WorkFit website www.dsworkfit.org.uk