learning disability

Summer Session at the Allotment

Luckily there was a bit of cloud cover on this particular mid-July Wednesday morning, because very hot weather can make it tricky for the St Nicholas group at the allotment. Sarah and Felicity Ann had prepared some activities in the shade, including digging potatoes, looking at some of the reference library and making/decorating name badges for the Allotment Open Morning on 25th July.

Some people did some trimming back of brambles and clearing, tidying up the entrance area to the Allotment.

Scott Walker, inspirational speaker

Part of the Flourish ethos is about creating challenges for the people we work with and supporting our service users, where appropriate, towards getting jobs. As part of this process, we arranged for a special guest speaker to go to the St Nicholas Centre.

So it was our great pleasure last week, to welcome 18 year old Scott Walker, our first 'inspirational speaker'. The idea was he could tell us about his life, and his journey to getting a job. Then we could ask him any questions about that. Our hope is that this conversation could inspire others to think about their own lives, and what they might like to do with them.

Job coach and friend to Flourish, Mark Gilbert had initially made contact with Scott and brought him along. Scott now works for the Special Assistance team at Gatwick Airport, helping support passengers who have disabilities or special needs get to their flights.

We began with myself and Mark introducing ourselves and Scott to the group, then we went round so everyone in the room could say their name. Almost everyone who came had attended sessions at Lewes Community Allotment in the past, and it was lovely to see so many familiar faces. There were 16 members of the centre, plus staff members Brian, Eleanor and Caroline, and myself (Emma) from Flourish.

Scott then told us about himself and his childhood, which hadn't been easy. He talked about the first signs of his disability, the tremor in his arm and leg. When he first went to school, he found it really hard, especially writing, understanding and numbers. The teachers were not helpful, he said, they didn't really understand his disability, and would force him to write, even though this would mean it hurt him. His parents struggled with it as well. He then attended a different mainstream school, but "They didn't understand my disabilities either, so I would get put in detention. So I would call in sick. They promised me a laptop or iPad, and I didn't get either. Aged 14, I went to another school. They also promised equipment I never got. They kicked me out. I went to another school, which was no better. I wanted to be a PE teacher, but they said I needed English and Maths, and I couldn't do them."

Mark invited the group to talk about their own experiences of schooling. One person said she was dyslexic. The school she went to had tried to help her, but weren't able to do enough.  "School made me feel emotional, teary and worried."

Scott told her he related to that.

Another group member said they had to leave aged 9 because the school didn't give them enough support. It didn't really feel as if the people that spoke had a very positive experience of being supported and encouraged at school. Someone who went to St Anne's school for people with special needs thought it was good, but sadly, that closed down.

Scott said: "They labelled me a failure, and didn't see what I could do. It drove me to depression. The things I dreamed of, the teachers said I had no chance. I was forced to go to Crawley College to do bricklaying - even though I wanted to study Media. I hated it. The school careers advice wasn't good. They didn't listen."

But then Scott met Richard Lamplough - a job coach for people with learning disabilities, where Mark sometimes works. Richard has companies called Won't Ever Be Ltd and A Potential Diamond, working with people with learning disabilities, helping them to get jobs.

Richard was working with Crawley College to increase work opportunities. Scott was about to quit, but then Richard talked to him. Scott told him he most wanted to help other people. Richard knew the Special Assistance team at Gatwick, and arranged for Scott to go for taster course, then helped him with an interview for a job there, which he now has, and loves.

We talked about the number of challenges for people with learning disabilities for getting work. St Nicholas has a Skills to Employment course that a number of the group attend.  Someone commented that "most of us want to get a job". 

One group member said he works at County Hall, washing up and cleaning, someone else volunteers in a charity shop.

Mark then explained to us what being a job coach means. He said he works with people with learning disabilities to agree with them what they are capable of. He then supports them in seeking work.

Scott told the group that the manager at Gatwick didn't really look at his CV, but said she gave him the job because of his personality, and the fact that he was so enthusiastic. "She didn't care about my Maths and English. But there are some unkind employers who don't understand - and you wouldn't want to work with them. I used to be a plasterer and bricklayer. Even though I explained, my employer didn't understand my disability - issues such as not being able to remember all the tools he told me to fetch. 

Then Scott talked about the job he does now.

"Airports can be busy, confusing and complicated. For anybody, it can be confusing. But for people who can't read or have sensory issues, such as autism, they can easily find it overwhelming. My company has desks which assists people to get around the airport. We provide customer service, to make sure they feel relaxed, not stressed and can get to their flight safely. We help them all the way to their plane if necessary. One example of what I do was helping a little boy on the autistic spectrum. My job was to keep him company, so he didn't run off. I put him in wheelchair to start with, and that wasn't right. By listening, I learnt what he did need. And learning from experiences makes me better at my job."

Scott dresses very smartly and professionally. Mark pointed out that this sends a positive message about him to other people. 

Scott says he polishes his shoes and takes a lot of care to look smart. "My boss says she wants to recruit 100 of me!"

Mark pointed out that Scott "doesn't look like a guy with challenges". Scott told us his parents didn't used to believe in his disability - they only understood about it quite recently.  "You have to do it for yourself. Ask for help, and push yourself."

Questions

Mark asked the group how much they think Scott earns per hour.

There were guesses that ranged from £2000 to £2. In fact, he says, he earns £8.25 per hour, the same as everyone doing that job. He is currently contracted for 46 hours a month, but is often asked to do more. Scott told us he is learning to drive at the moment, which is expensive, but he still lives at home.

The group then asked the following questions:

Do you work night shifts?

Not at the moment, but I will do when I get more hours.

How many staff are there in a team?

Loads! Zone G has 5 people at a time, 20 on the air side. So maybe 50 working at any one time, over both terminals.

What are your travel-to-work costs?

£50 for a four week bus pass.

Do you have a security pass? 

Yes. You have to have a background check, for security clearance. They take up references, I work in the aircraft field, and go right up to the planes. There is a lot of health and safety involved.

How old were you when you started?

17. I was young for a lot of responsibilities. But they saw my potential, despite a lack of qualifications.

How old were you when you were diagnosed with a disability?

Seven or eight.

The last two questions were:

What's your favourite part of your job?

Helping passengers!

What's your least favourite part? 

The way passengers can treat you when they miss flights.

End of the session

At this point, our special session came to an end, with the centre kindly providing refreshments. But first we did some thank yous: Brian for having us, Mark for contacting and bringing Scott, everyone for coming, listening so attentively and asking such thoughtful questions. But most of all, we thanked Scott for being such an amazing inspirational speaker. He told us he'd never done it before.

Finally, we asked the group:

Did you find it useful?
Everyone agreed it had been really helpful.

Has it driven you on?
The answers were a resounding "yes!"

Emma Chaplin, 26 February 2018
 

Last session with St Nicholas group before Christmas - herbs, scones & lots of fun!

It was the last session before Christmas for the St Nicholas allotment group. Because the weather was so wet and windy, we held it in the day centre. Sarah and volunteer Penny went up to the allotment to pick some herbs and brought those down to make herb bundles. Project manager Emma came along with some Ringmer Community Orchard apple juice to share. Sadly sessional worker Felicity Ann wasn't able to come because of family illness, but she sent along some magnificent cheese and pumpkin scones and mince pies for the group to eat.

Some excellent festive hats were worn - including a splendid Christmas pudding tea cosy!

Everyone identified their own herb first, and smelled them, as well as sniffing some pieces of fir Sarah brought. Then the herbs (rosemary, bay, thyme and sage) were split into a bundle for everyone. Helped by Eleanor, Sarah and Penny, members of the group tied their own bundle with a piece of string and Emma helped them add a name tag. There was some lovely knot and bow work going on!

Then we played a Food Chain game, identifying what eats what. Then Sarah brought out an exciting box. Flourish had found everyone a little Christmas gift relating to wildlife. There were finger puppets and keyrings of bats, mice, rabbits and ladybirds, plus some bees.

Next we had some apple juice, scones and mince pies - and had a lovely surprise visit by John Parry who knew lots of members of the group from his time at the Railway Land. Also, Robert, who had been an allotment group member joined us for a little while.

Sarah showed a slideshow of  photos of 20 years of Lewes Community Allotment that Emma had compiled of photos taken by Sarah, herself and other members over the years.

It was a lovely morning.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and happy new year from everyone at Flourish.

Wishing everyone a peaceful Christmas and happy new year from everyone at Flourish.

Job Spotlight: Job Coach

This is the first of a series of interviews in which we speak to people about the work they do. Mark Gilbert tells us about being a job coach.

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What’s a job coach?

It’s someone who supports a client to get a job and keep it.

Primarily my role tends to be supporting young people with learning disabilities or mental health issues.

This means helping them to navigate the process of preparing for an interview, supporting them to: acquire a job, navigate induction and help do the role, addressing technical and social skills they might need.

We work together to solve problems, break down barriers and increase independence.

How did you come to be a job coach?

After leaving uni, I got a job as a special needs assistant in several schools and it stemmed from there. I’ve always been drawn to helping people move forward in their lives. I like to enable people to fulfil their potential.

What skills are required to be a good one?

Patience, problem-solving abilities, the ability to communicate with a range of people well and to understand the right level of support to offer.

People with learning disabilities can be over-supported by those that love and care for them. There is a risk that, over time, this can erode their independence. In order to grow, you need to be challenged, in a sensitive way. This will help to build confidence and independence.

What are the challenges?

Our culture undervalues and misunderstands people with learning disabilities and many people can be fearful of things they don’t understand.

So challenges include:

  • Building confidence in someone that is likely to have been bullied
  • Engaging with employers and convincing them that a person with a learning disability could be an asset to the business
  • Convincing some parents that they might need to let go a little and allow their son or daughter to become more independent

Who employs you?

I currently work for Won’t Ever Be Ltd, a small organisation that helps people with learning disabilities find and retain work.

What are the main challenges facing people with learning disabilities in the job market?

There isn’t enough funding to get the support they need to become contributing members of society.

They are often undervalued and underestimated.

In general, employers do not have the awareness or experience to make adjustments to the work place that might be needed for someone with a learning disability. These adjustments often cost very little or even no money.

What can help overcome those?

More funding for more resources so that positive and appropriately challenging interventions and support can be delivered. 

Education for society, including positive stories, inspirational role models and better representation in the media.

More opportunities for work experiences. More support and information for parents of people with learning disabilities. 

Do you enjoy it?

Yes, I love it! There aren’t many jobs that are as varied, interesting, challenging and rewarding.

To contact Mark about job coaching, drop him an email markgilbert@live.co.uk

Interview by Emma Chaplin
 

Apple Course with Plumpton Supported Interns

On a sunny day in early October, a group of 13 Supported Interns from Plumpton College came along to Ringmer Community Orchard, where Peter May, Stephan Gehrels (from Brighton Permaculture Trust) and facilitator Mark Gilbert greeted them and put on a day of learning about apples; picking them, grading them and weighing them. The group worked very hard and managed to pick lots of apples, mostly Red Falstaff with some (green) Edward VII. They also tasted some juice from the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park.

Here are some photos (taken by Mark Gilbert):

One week later, the same group went to the Fruit Factory at Stanmer Park where Stephan of Brighton Permaculture Trust showed them how to wash the apples, cut out the rotten bits, then crush them in the macerator, put the pulp in the hydropress, and press the pulp into gallons of lovely raw juice.

The group then tasted it, poured some into glass bottles and some into plastic containers. The glass bottles went on to be pasteurised, the group could take the raw juice containers away, one each, to drink (within three days).

A passer-by came over to buy some raw juice for her grandson, which was fun.

Here are some photos of the day (taken by Emma Chaplin):

In the afternoon, after a lunch break, Bryn from Brighton Permaculture Trust (BPT) joined the group to give a tour of the orchards at Stanmer. He talked about how orchards were planted in order to produce food and drink, for people to enjoy and learn in, to support wildlife, and to provide blossom for bees to produce honey. He showed us the bee hives.

He explained that BPT help schools and communities to plant orchards. Each orchard will feed three or four generations of people because apple trees can last to be over 100 years old. Trees get less productive as they get old. Pruning helps refresh growth. Sometimes older branches fall off and leave holes. These are good for insects and birds. Blue tits and great tits love them, and they also eat green caterpillars. 

The orchard we first looked at holds the national collection of Sussex apple trees, and each had a beautiful ceramic name label, made by Anne-Marie Bur.

We looked at the moss and lichen -  Bryn said that there are 60 species at Stanmer - and told us that lichen is an algae and a fungi living together. 

Members of the group asked lots of questions as we walked around. Bryn asked us to think about why trees produce fruit in the first place - and what we concluded, was that it means the tree spreads its seeds - after the apples are eaten. These happened by means of horses, pigs and bears in Kazakhstan, where apple trees originated. 

We looked at some Golden pippin apples. It's thought the Romans might have eaten apples similar to these. The Romans were skilled at grafting, and we know they cultivated orchards. Surviving Roman mosaics certainly depict apples.

Bryn showed us the Sussex collection, which has a row of trees planted at an angle so that they stay small - also, Bryn explained - branches trained to grow sideways produce more fruit. 

We looked at the Knobby russet - which tastes nice but has rough skin, like a toad.

Bryn showed us a large lump at root of tree which he told us had come from the grafting process. 

We discussed why there are so many types of apples, and we thought it was because they all taste different, their ripening times vary, and each has adapted to grow in a particular place. 

We talked about the Great Storm of 1987 and the fact that it led to a lot of damaged and destroyed trees in Stanmer.

After this really interesting walk and talk, the group headed back to the Fruit Factory, where Stephan had finished pasteurising the juice. The bottles were warm but ready for the group to take back to their base at the Linklater, where they can design their own labels. These they will show Huw at the Elephant and Castle pub, the last part of the apple juice project between Flourish and Plumpton. Then their juice bottles can be sold towards a charity of the students' choice. Here is a link to the work done by last year's students.

Thanks to Stephan, Bryn, Peter and Mark for all their hard work - and thanks to the interns for all of theirs too.

Emma Chaplin, Flourish Project Manager

Rural Pathways groups - Last Session Celebrations

It's been a great pleasure for Flourish, running regular sessions for groups of Rural Pathways students from Plumpton College at Lewes Community Allotment and Baulcombes Barn. The young people have all worked very hard and got a lot of work done. So to thank them, we had celebrations of their time with us at their last sessions.

Lewes Community Allotment's group's last session.

First of all we did some work, such as weeding, then we stopped and had a visit from a friendly cat.

Then we enjoyed some Ringmer Community Orchard juice, or water, as well as a lovely feast of cheese, quiche, chopped veggies, hummus and homemade samosas brought by Niyati. Then allotment member Karine came along with a spectacular cake to thank the students for all their hard clearing work at the Allotment, which the members have really appreciated.

Finally, Common Cause director Topsy Jewell presented everyone with their own certificate that Emma had brought along.

Baulcombes Barn last session

 

 

At the last session at Baulcombes Barn, first we did some work on the farm. So we split up into groups and either collected eggs or fed the pigs.

Then we went back to enjoy some burgers in rolls or pitta made from Owena's pork, as well as freshly boiled eggs from her community hens, washing down with apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard. 

It was a lovely way to say thank you and goodbye to the group, who have all been brilliant.

Making willow hurdles at the Allotment

A slideshow of our willow weaving session

On a wild and stormy afternoon, with Hurricane Doris on the way, the Plumpton Rural Pathways group arrived at Lewes Community Allotment, carrying bundles of willow they had cut two weeks ago at Owena's smallholding, Baulcombes Barn. Local basket maker Sarah Lawrence was on hand to show them how to weave the willow into hurdles to edge the flower and vegetable beds, to keep the soil in. 

She began by talking about health and safety - particularly with sharp secateurs and working with long pieces of willow that tend to whip about and can damage eyes.  

We split into different groups to do different tasks.

Sarah told the weaving group that we needed to find the fattest lengths first to slot into the wooden frame that Neil Merchant had kindly made for us to allow us to make the willow hurdle structures. These pieces of willow were then cut with loppers to equal lengths. 

Sarah said we needed to be careful to keep the outside structural ends straight and upright whilst we wove thinner pieces across them so they don't pull together and make a triangle. We then took turns to weave the willow pieces across between the uprights, turning at the ends, doing it in pairs at each end one at a time, changing which side of the hurdle we started with each time for stability, and pushing the willow down each time. 

We loved the different colours of the willow. We all had a go and were really pleased with how it worked out.

Sarah had also brought a paint tin lid opening tool for making holes in ground to make a hurdle straight into the earth, and she showed another group how to do that!

The other groups got on with some excellent tidying and trimming back work.

Emma Chaplin

User Group Meeting, November 2016

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Owena kindly hosted our recent User Group meeting at Baulcombes Barn on 23 November 2016. After a wild few days of  lot of rain and wind, we were lucky to have good weather for it. Owena had a fire going outside, with chairs around for everyone to sit down.

We had representatives from Bluebell House and St Nicholas Day Centre. All in all, there were fourteen of us.

Owena and Sue from Bluebell showed us the chickens, and we fed them. They are moulting at the moment so not laying eggs. Some of the fully grown grey ones had grown up from being the newborn chicks featured in a video we'd made a few months ago! Owena explained about how the hen house door comes up in the morning and shuts at dusk, to keep the hens safe from foxes.

We went to see the two weaners (pigs) as well and fed them apples and hay. They were burrowing in the mud with their snouts and larking about. They seemed very happy.

Then Owena took the group for a walk to see the sheep, whilst I put the kettle on, heated up some of Owena's delicious sausages and cut some homemade lemon cake up.

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The group returned for a hot drinks and something to eat, and a chat about various things, including what would be a good small memento of the the project. The group felt they'd like a key-ring best of all, with a photo of the allotment on it. I will look into this.

Sue stayed behind to help me to clear up the cups and plates, then headed back to Bluebell House.

It was a lovely morning.

Thank you Owena

Emma Chaplin, Project Manager

 

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