The head of one of the UK’s leading care groups for people with learning disabilities says service users who undertake paid work grow in confidence.
People like Clare Stubley, who works in a coffee shop, and Dawn Mellor, who helps to keep shelves stocked in a shop, are enjoying fulfilled lives while living in a caring environment.
Sandie Foxall-Smith, Chief Executive Officer of Regard – the fourth biggest private provider of supported living and residential services in the UK for people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and acquired brain injuries – said: “We have seen the confidence and independence that our service users have gained as a result of being at work and earning their own money.
“Having a job, even on a part-time basis, is a vital part of their progress into independence. Some go on to leave the day-to-day care that we provide, and live in their own flats in town with a limited level of support.
“It is all about integrating into everyday society. Being in paid employment enables our service users to feel valued and that they have a place in society, and meanwhile others become more tolerant of those who are different to themselves.”
Regard – formed in 1994 with the aim of creating community-based services for people with learning disabilities and mental health needs – offers supported accommodation opportunities to gain independence skills with the aim of helping them reach their maximum potential.
As part of that approach, Regard assists suitable individuals in its supported accommodation in obtaining work and in travelling to and from their workplaces, and has pioneered OWL (Outcomes With Learning) centres.
These centres, one in Dorset and one in Wales, provide courses that can lead to nationally recognised qualifications, and include a market garden which grows produce for a local pub and golf club, and an enterprise centre where individuals come to make crafts which are then sold on the internet and at craft fairs.
Some of those who have attended the OWL centres have progressed into paid employment, in roles ranging from car valeting and gardening to waitressing and assisting in shops, and also volunteer work.
Regard has a staff of over 2,200 operating at 148 sites around the country, supporting over 1,000 people with learning disabilities and acquired brain injuries and helping them to live independently.
Case Study 1 – Clare Stubley
Ever since she started working two-and-a-half days a week at Costa Coffee in the Dorset market town of Wimborne, Clare Stubley has become a popular figure with staff and customers.
“I’m thrilled to bits to be working here,” said Claire, 41, who deals with customers, clears tables, washes up, and loads and unloads the dishwasher.
Clare enjoys chatting with customers, and has developed friendships with many regulars, who send her postcards or bring her souvenirs when they go on holiday.
Earning her own money enabled Clare to pay towards fulfilling her ambition of swimming with dolphins, during a 40th birthday trip to Florida with her parents.
She said: “I’d seen it on television and it was just my dream. It was even better than I thought it would be!”
Clare, who has Down’s, lives at Regard’s Two Wells service in Cranborne, Dorset, and staff accompany her to and from her job.
Manager Karen Freeman said: “I popped in the other day for a coffee, and it was wonderful to see Clare rushing about with so much enthusiasm.
“Like so many of our service users, she has blossomed in a workplace environment – they feel so important when they get home!”
Case Study 2 – Dawn Mellor
A typical working week for Dawn Mellor involves working in two shops in Huntingdon in Cambridgeshire.
The 29-year-old is employed for two days a week at the Dunelm homewares store, and for another two days a week she volunteers at an Oxfam shop in the town.
“I’m really enjoying it,” said Dawn, who started her job at Dunelm earlier this year. “I look forward to it every week.”
Dawn gained experience of retail work when she began volunteering at Oxfam after moving to an independent development run by Regard in King’s Ripton Road, Huntingdon at which staff support people with complex needs to enable them to learn skills that help them to meet their full potential.
Jo Burton, Regard service manager at Huntingdon, said: “Independent living means different things for different people depending on their needs and abilities. Dawn is getting real experience of the world of work and it gives a shape to her week and her day. We are all really proud of her.”