2nd November 2018: A group of Northamptonshire adults have secured paid employment or are on the way to pursuing their dream jobs thanks to a successful project for people with learning difficulties.

A theatre prop designer, shop assistant and childcare worker are among the newfound ambitions of members at Northamptonshire charity Teamwork Trust – who support adults with mental health needs, learning and physical disabilities – after they completed the SEMLEP ‘Building Better Opportunities’ project, funded through the European Social Fund and the National Lottery's Big Lottery Fund.

Their successes on the programme coincide with MENCAP’s Learning Disability Work Week (5-11 November).

“Just 6% of people in the UK with a learning disability are in paid work and at Teamwork we want to help change that,” said Samantha Farrow, working mentor and project lead, Teamwork Trust. “Adults with learning difficulties have so much to offer employers and make reliable, trustworthy workers, yet it is sometimes hard for them to access employment for many different reasons.”

One-to-one tailored support, CV workshops, volunteering opportunities and work experience placements, a job club and access to literacy, numeracy and IT qualifications were just some of the elements of the 18-month project, aimed at helping seven adults with learning difficulties become more job-ready.

“The SEMLEP project enabled us to offer bespoke support that’s really person-centered, and it has made a huge difference to these individuals, their confidence and life skills,” said Samantha. “It is wonderful to have been able to help them grow – achieving qualifications and gaining valuable work experience and even securing paid employment along the way. They now believe in themselves and their ability to achieve their job ambitions.”


“I would never have gained paid employment without the support”

Natalie Greaves did not imagine that she would be working at local nursery 18 months ago, in fact she hadn’t even realised just how much she loved working with children before starting the Building Better Opportunities programme. She said: “I had always wanted to work with animals and I even have a dog grooming qualification but when the nursery offered me work experience I couldn’t say no,” she said. 

Karla Roberts, Manager and Early Years Teacher, Chirpy Chicks, Gretton was so inspired when she had read a story about Natalie in the newspaper and the work experience she had completed at Lydia’s Café at the beginning of the programme, that she offered her a placement. Natalie went on to impress the team so much they made her a part-time member of staff. Natalie said: “I even shocked myself with how much I enjoy working with children. My working mentor came with me on my placements until I felt confident enough to do it on my own and just having someone with me when I first started made me feel happier. I would never have gone onto gain paid employment without that support at the beginning. I love to think that the extra help I bring to the nursery staff and children makes a difference.” 

Natalie’s naturally caring nature and compassion makes her perfect for her role and Karla says she has become a valued team member. “Natalie continues to provide a wonderful enhancement to our team, and she takes her responsibilities seriously.  She supports the children's learning and development as she understands their interests, and will spend a lot of time and patience to work alongside a child or group of children to help them to succeed.

“As we are a busy setting, having an extra person has really helped us to maintain calm environment and to meet the needs of the children.”

“I want to set up my own business selling theatre props”

Jonathan Reynolds had never seriously thought about pursuing a job that used his natural creative flair. He said: “I wasn’t very confident and used to get really anxious so employment wasn’t something I thought was possible. I love making costumes based on characters from films so when I started thinking about the types of jobs I’d like to do during the programme, I realised I would love to become a prop designer.”

With the help of his mentor Jonathan looked at relevant placements and secured a place on a Screen Northants’ workshop scheme, helping to make sets, sound editing and working as a runner and extra on the feature film, Macbeth. He says having someone from Teamwork Trust give him one-to-one support to overcome his worries gave him a massive confidence boost.

“Samantha helped me come up with a plan to manage my anxiety and help me settle in which was just what I needed. I soon started to realise I was changing, able to speak louder and more confidently. My friends and family could see the change too and they can’t believe how far I have come.” 

Becky Adams, Producer, Screen Northants said: “Jonathan threw himself into unusual situations putting himself outside his comfort zone. He was polite, professional and diligent with good attention to detail and was a real pleasure to have around. We hope we will work with him on other projects.” 

Jonathan is about to start another placement with Kettering-based arts company, Picture the Difference.  He said: “I feel like I’ve been given lots of new opportunities and that makes me feel really happy. I would love to set up my own business selling theatre props and I now feel that might be possible.”

“I have big goals I am working towards”

Jonathan Monk has been a Teamwork Trust member for three years. He said: “I really enjoyed thinking about the types of jobs I wanted to do and came up with some ideas to work in a warehouse or as a shop assistant. I have also volunteered at a local hospital too which I liked. I would just like to work as part of a team and feel valued.”

For Jonathan confidence was a big focus so he received support to help him overcome his anxiety. Samantha said: “Jonathan and I spent a lot of time working on his interview techniques and I also helped him during his work placements so that he felt more at ease. When he said he wanted to go along to an open day at a local hospital I helped him prepare for the interview, induction and training too. Jonathan is actually very proactive and likes putting himself forward when he feels settled in a situation, so I knew it was important to help him feel that way in the workplace.”

Jonathan, who has also achieved or is working towards recognised qualifications in literacy, numeracy, IT and food hygiene added: “In a year’s time I see myself being better skilled and in paid work. I have big goals I am working towards.”

 If you have learning difficulties or know someone who has and would like to access employment please email Samantha Farrow: [email protected], for more information.