06 November 2017

Learning Disabilities Work Week

By Lucy Berrisford – Occupational Therapist, Eldertree Lodge

Learning Disabilities Work Week is from 6th to 12th November 2017, when Mencap is celebrating what great employees people with a learning disability can make www.mencap.org.uk/get-involved/learning-disability-work-week #LDWorkWeek.

Mencap works to improve the lives of people with a learning disability, and with the theme of the week being making paid work a reality for more people with a learning disability, the charity will be exploring the difficulties of getting a job if you have a learning disability, as well as raising awareness of the benefits of employing people with a learning disability. Throughout the week, Mencap will be sharing stories from employers and employees on the benefits of employing people with a learning disability, aiming to help tackle the current low levels of employment of people with a learning disability in the UK.

At Eldertree Lodge, one of the Huntercombe Hospitals for adults with mental health problems and learning disabilities, we set up the Ash Tree Café in June 2017 to facilitate vocational rehabilitation and social inclusion. The project arose from the Occupational Therapy team reviewing the service and thinking of ways to incorporate more onsite vocational skills opportunities and social inclusion.

The café is run by patients with the support of OTED staff and it provides an opportunity for purposeful work experience and a place to develop interpersonal skills. The café currently provides five work role opportunities including chef, kitchen cleaner, drinks maker and money handler, food purchaser and waiter.

Patients took part in a recruitment process and were supported to apply for a job from the notice board, attend an interview and complete a six week preparing for work scheme before starting their job in the café. The ‘Preparing for Work’ scheme supports patients to reflect on their skills and develop areas such as teamwork, communication, health and safety and writing CVs.

We are now into the fifth month of the café project and our original recruits have finished their work placements and were taken out for a celebratory meal funded by the café and received certificates. We completed a second recruitment process and Preparing to Work scheme, employing five new café project members, with a further two patients re-applying for their jobs. All workers have a custom made café t-shirt and have started well in their new roles, offering ideas for the café and practicing the skills they have developed in the Preparing to Work course. All employees and patients at the hospital are invited to attend the café or order a takeaway from the takeaway service, which following on from a competition to name the café, was aptly named ‘Thanks a Latte.’

The hospital also has some external work placements and have had many in the past to support these skills and onsite opportunities such as the gardening and grounds maintenance patient teams. We currently have placements at a local farm to help with general farm work and animal care and offer a voluntary mowing service as part of the community team at the local church. We are hoping to broaden the opportunities we offer our patients with work experience in the community in the New Year.

Mencap has carried out research which shows that whilst most individuals express the desire to work, only 6% of people with a learning disability and 15% of people with autism, are in paid employment, which is often part-time and low paid. Other research shows that it is really important to provide opportunities for vocational rehabilitation and greater social inclusion for those with a learning disability. Engaging in vocational rehabilitation offers a key focus to developing life skills to obtain or remain in work, which has been proven to increase independence and participation in society, as well as improve mental and physical health and well-being (College of Occupational Therapists, 2016)1 . Smith et al (2010)2  also recognise the importance of facilitating opportunities for individuals in learning disability settings to engage in vocational training to learn skills and support improved motivation, self-esteem and confidence. The report by Mencap, “Good for Business, the benefits of employing people with a learning disability’3 cites many fantastic examples of really successful working.

1 Smith A, Petty M, Oughton I, Alexander RT (2010) Establishing a work-based learning programme: vocational rehabilitation in a forensic learning disability setting. British Journal of Occupational Therapy, 73(9), 431–436.

2 College of Occupational Therapists Limited (COT) 2016, Vocational Rehabilitation Factsheet.

3 www.mencap.org.uk/sites/default/files/2017-06/2017.080.1%20LDW%202017%20guide%20DIGITAL%20V2.pdf