Trainees from a pioneering jobs scheme for people with learning disabilities are celebrating getting back to work after having to stop work during the height of lockdown.

The Step Up For Work programme is run by Minstead Trust to provide people with learning disabilities with the skills and opportunities they need to gain employment.

The programme placed its first trainees into paid employment before lockdown, and now they are gradually returning to the workplace once again.

Rhianne attended Step Up For Work workshops last year to learn the skills needed for employment, including timekeeping, applying for jobs and interacting with colleagues. A supported work experience placement followed at Minstead Lodge, Minstead Trust’s conference and events venue.

Now, Rhianne has begun her very first paid job at Paultons Park. After receiving help from her Minstead Trust job opportunities mentor, Rhianne applied for a role in the food and beverage department with the popular theme park and was successful at interview. Now after social distancing and COVID hygiene training, she has begun work and has received a friendly welcome from her colleagues.

Rhianne said: ‘I am really pleased to be back at work. I missed it and missed seeing the other people. I enjoy my job.’

Bob and Rhianne, Step Up For Work graduates

Andrew Edwards, Head of Food & Beverage at Paultons Park said: ‘We’re pleased to have welcomed Rhianne to the team, since beginning her employment at Paultons Park she appears to be settling in well.

‘We’re thankful to the team at Minstead Trust for their impeccable support throughout the recruitment and onboarding process and hope we’re able to support further employment opportunities in association with the Trust in the future.’

The 12 month Step Up For Work programme is pioneering in the work experience opportunities it gives to its participants and its five steps to employment success:

  1. Participants are assigned a job opportunities mentor and discuss what kind of work they are targeting
  2. Up to 12 workshops on topics including workplace expectations and interviews
  3. A work experience of up to 26 weeks in a Minstead Trust business
  4. Work placement with external employer
  5. Permanent employment, either paid or voluntary.

Another trainee who successfully secured their first job before lockdown was Bob, who is soon due to begin work with construction company Skanska UK assisting with stock counting at their Totton premises. He is currently working in the café at Hanger Farm Arts Centre in Totton to get used to the work environment again after lockdown and hopes to start his first paid job with Skanska soon.

Neil Saunders, Minstead Trust Job Opportunities Mentor, said: ‘Step Up For Work is making a real difference to the lives of people with learning disabilities. We are helping people gain the skills and confidence they need to live more independent and fulfilled lives.

‘We couldn’t do it without the support of businesses like Paultons Park and Skanska UK. They have been extremely supportive and this has made a huge difference to Rhianne and Bob in assisting them to not only to build confidence and learn new work skills but also to enjoy a much more independent lifestyle.’

Charlie Green, Customer Liaison Manager at Skanska UK, said: ‘Skanska are absolutely committed to supporting the communities where we work, and seeing the great potential of the Step Up For Work programme offered by Minstead Trust it was clear that this was something we wanted to be part of. Taking on someone with learning disabilities into our work environment brings so much more to us all, the enthusiasm and fulfilment of that individual is shared amongst the whole team.’

Minstead Trust supports more than 200 people with learning disabilities across Hampshire through supported living accommodation, day opportunities and employment training.

The coronavirus lockdown has been hugely challenging for the Trust, with its income vastly reduced as its social enterprises closed for several months. The Trust runs Furzey Gardens in Minstead, Hanger Farm Arts Centre in Totton and Minstead Lodge hospitality and events venue. These enterprises also offer work experience for people with learning disabilities to work towards employment.

Find out more about the scheme and how you could get involved at www.minsteadtrust.org.uk/step-up-for-work

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