This week is Learning Disability Week and the focus of this year’s week is employment.
The charity sector and others are working to raise awareness of the benefits of employing people with a learning disability to help tackle the saddening low levels of employment for this group of the population.
As PHE’s Disability Champion I have the unique privilege of witnessing some of the inspiring efforts across PHE to, in some part, address these inequalities and I’ve chosen to blog about two particular examples that I am aware of first hand.
Several weeks ago I was delighted to visit PHE’s first Project SEARCH programme at PHE Colindale, an initiative for young adults with learning disabilities and/or who are on the autism spectrum; a programme that is having such an incredible impact.
Project SEARCH is at the core of what PHE does as an organisation; and it recognises the importance of work to improving health and reducing health inequalities.
The average employment rate for individuals aged 18–24 with a learning disability in the UK is just 7%. That figure increases to an average of 65% for those that have been through a Project SEARCH programme.
Not just that, people with learning difficulties often find it harder to make friends and still often face isolation and exclusion from everyday activities. Employment opportunities help to break down these barriers.
The Project SEARCH programme, led by our National Infection Service Operations team at Colindale, received worthy recognition at PHE’s second Diversity and Staff Inclusion Awards held at the House of Lords in May 2017.
As well as taking home the trophy for ‘Champion of the Year’ for Jay Pau, Lynne Foster, Mark Greenley, Michelle Owen, Layi Onakunle, Frances Piggott and Paul Laidler, the initiative also received multiple nominations across the ‘Manager of the Year award’ and the ‘Partnership Award’.
Worthy recognition for a team who have invested so heavily in the programme and most importantly the young people they support.
The current cohort of students are coming to the end of their first year and are due to graduate on the evening of 12 July 2017, at an event hosted by the onsite team where our Chief Executive, Duncan Selbie, will be delivering the keynote speech.
The students will be leaving the programme with over 800 hours of meaningful work experience, achieved across three 10 week rotations, enhanced employability skills and an NVQ qualification.
The success of the programme however will be measured by the number of students that move into paid employment. Even after the students have left PHE Colindale the onsite team will continue to work alongside them whilst they journey into the world of work.
What hit me most about the students was how immersed they were within the business.
Feedback from their mentors and line managers has been exceptionally positive and I am actively encouraging other managers from across PHE to consider entry level roles within their department and whether they would be appropriate for a Project SEARCH student or having a student based for a ten week rotation in their area.
Although we currently have one programme, there are over 60 Project SEARCH sites across the country with rich talent pools that we (and other organisations) could tap into.
During my visit I met one of the students who had left the programme early to start paid employment in the Colindale warehouse. The impact on that individual and the pride they felt was palpable and profound.
As well as having a remarkable effect on the students themselves, I was humbled to see the effect it had had on the onsite team. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for their hard work and for their tireless commitment to the development of the students.
The Opportunity Café
Whilst my role takes me the length and breadth of the country to the numerous PHE sites, I am proud to be based within the PHE North East Centre in Newcastle.
One of our two Newcastle offices is at Waterfront 4 on the Newburn Riverside development and PHE North East has been working with six NHS organisations (NHS England, Health Education England, NHS Improvement, NHS Property Services, North East Commissioning Support and the Newcastle Gateshead Clinical Commissioning Group) which all are co-located, to re-open the office’s café which had unfortunately closed 18 months ago.
This new café (brilliantly named the Opportunity Café) is no ordinary workplace venture. It is providing meaningful paid employment for eleven people with learning disabilities working between 12 and 25 hours a week, as well as three people who do not have learning disabilities.
For some of the people with learning disabilities, including Brian aged 50, this is their first paid job.
As well as this opportunity, the café is also sourcing as much food and drink as possible from local suppliers, giving a boost to local businesses and furthering our sustainability credentials.
The Opportunity Café launches this week during Learning Disability Week and is the culmination of months of work led by the North East and Cumbria Learning Disabilities Network supported by the partnership to establish the Community Interest Company, developing the business plan and appointing staff by the partnership.
A video of the launch shows the enthusiasm of the team for their new jobs.
The café will be self-sustaining and support its own development through its profits, and all of its policies, job descriptions and infrastructure has been designed in a way that makes it accessible to people with learning disabilities.
In the future, the café will:
- Use any profits it generates to create a Small Sparks fund that people with learning disabilities in the North East and Cumbria can apply for to help them connect with their community;
- Provide apprenticeships, training programmes and work placements for people with learning disabilities helping them to also find employment and lead fulfilling lives.
- Help NHS organisations in other parts of the country to adopt a similar model.
This has been a real opportunity for PHE to live its values of tackling health inequalities by providing employment for some of our most disadvantaged citizens and to do so in conjunction with our key system partners.
Of course there is always more that we could and will do, but its nice to reflect from time to time at the good work that goes on across our organisation.
Whilst these are just two timely examples, its also worth noting that what is common in each example of good practice is good people. Good people doing their best to do the right thing and that inspires me to redouble my efforts as Disability Champion for PHE.
Follow the debate on Learning Disability Week using the twitter hashtag #LDWeek17 and you can follow me @michaelkbrodie