st nicholas day centre

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
 

VizAbility shadow puppet show at Westgate Chapel

A few months ago at Lewes Community Allotment, when the group from St Nicholas Day Centre were looking at the floppy, frosted leaves, they commented to Allotment Coordinator Sarah that they thought the leaves looked "like puppets" as they moved them, and the group playfully made the leaves 'speak'. As a consequence of that, sessional worker Felicity Ann and I found wildlife finger puppets as little Christmas gifts for the group. And, having done an interview in January 2018 for Viva Lewes magazine with Hannah, who runs the VizAbility drama group at Westgate Chapel Lewes, part of the Oyster Project. I asked Hannah if VizAbility could put on a performance on their new shadow puppet play Birds Nest for the St Nicks group. She kindly agreed.

So, on a particularly bitter February morning, instead of meeting at the allotment, we met at the Westgate Chapel.

VizAbility is a group which meets every Wednesday morning at Westgate. The group come up with ideas for plays, and once they've decided what they want to do, they then create their own costumes, decide on what music they'd like, and do lots of rehearsing. Then, when they're ready, they perform for different community groups in Lewes, who might not otherwise be able to see many shows. Day centres, for example. At Christmas, VizAbility put on a performance of The Infant King It's a lot of work, but they enjoy it, they told us.

Hannah, with help from Lucy, leads the group and they all come up with ideas, then decide how to turn those ideas into a shadow puppet play.

The play they were performing for us was called Birds Nest after a Chinese proverb:  “That the birds of worry and care fly over you head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent." 

We all sat down, then the performance began with music and some actors doing shadow puppet work inside a blue tent, using lighting to create the shadows.  There was a clever way of showing words for the worries we sometimes feel - panic, paranoia, worry, fear. Then, someone came to help "take the worries away", hold the person's hand and bring more positive, calming words.

The costumes were great, and all the different clips of music that went with the play were really powerful. We enjoyed the dance, the music, the drama and the costumes. Everyone had clearly worked very hard.

After the performance, they kindly shared some delicious food and drink with us. 

Then we watched some films that the Oyster Project have made over the years.  First of all we saw Time slip, Journey of the Coin, with actor Sarah Gordy, which won the 2013 OSKA Bright International Film Festival (Carousel).  This looked at historical attitudes people with learning disabilities have had to face, and it did this by going back in time. John Russell of Oyster recorded and edited it. The film had a powerful and challenging message and conveyed it very effectively. We discussed this afterwards, and how it has taken people challenging those attitudes to bring about change.

We also watched a shadow puppet film based on Mary Shelley's dreams. Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein.  She once visited Lewes and went to see Dr Russell about her strange dreams. He recommended she bathe in the moonlight sea, and she ended up having happy dreams!  

Finally, we saw a film called Love and Peace, set in Newcastle.

Then we all had a chat. For their next project - the group told us that they would like to help doctors learn how to communicate better with disabled people. We thought that was a brilliant idea.

They hope to perform A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2018 too.

We thanked them so much for the warm welcome and a really interesting morning for all of us.

Emma Chaplin. Flourish project manager Feb 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.

A new allotment group from St Nicholas visit Baulcombes Barn

Have a look through our slideshow of St Nicholas Day Centre members' recent visit to the farm

It was lovely to welcome the new St Nicholas Day Centre allotment group to Baulcombes Barn for a visit. It was a sunny morning. The Bluebell group were there to meet them, and had brought cakes. I brought apple juice from Ringmer Community Orchard, made by another Flourish group. Owena had cooked food to try, including pieces of her own chorizo sausage, pork sausage and pieces of hogget (one year old lamb), plus some goats’ cheese made by a friend of Owena. So after introducing ourselves, we started off with a delicious mini-feast.

Owena explained the safety rules of the farm, such as not eating or taking human food near the animals, washing hands after touching animals, closing gates, being quiet around the animals so as not to scare them, not going behind horses (in case they kick) and being careful of slipping on poo or uneven ground.

Then we put boots on and went out to visit the farm animals that Owena had kindly brought to the area near the hut so that the group could meet them without going through the fields.

Some of the new group were not familiar with touching or feeding farm animals, so it took some courage to come forward and do that. Sue and others from Bluebell were very kind and helpful with the St Nicks group members.

We started off by looking at a swallow’s nest in a stable, then fed the chickens. We saw some of the new lambs and their mums, and fed two of the sheep with pellets. Then we took a wheelbarrow full of nettles to Penny and her two remaining piglets. Finally we went to see the ponies, caught Jerry up in a head collar and member of the St Nicholas Group come and patted him.

We finished by a visit to the wildlife-rich pond for a little sit in the sunshine whilst St Nicks waited for the minibus. Some of the newts had been eaten by a heron that morning unfortunately, but it was a beautiful and peaceful spot for a rest.

Emma Chaplin

Flourish Project Manager