Celebrating the Success of WorkFit North West

A year after she joined the DSA’s WorkFit team, Employment Development Officer (EDO) Fran Austin was thrilled to welcome candidates, parents, employers and professionals to the Revolution bar at Deansgate Locks, Manchester, for a celebration of WorkFit North West.

Last month’s event gave Fran a chance to highlight what she has achieved in the last year. Working with local employers she has created 17 positions for people with Down’s syndrome, delivered 20 training sessions to 129 employees and has had some excellent feedback from parents, candidates and employers.

I cannot speak highly enough of the support Fran has provided to Thomas.”Julie, mum to Thomas.

Fran began proceedings by reflecting on her first year at the DSA. She outlined the perceived barriers to hiring people with Down’s syndrome that exist for employers, such as concern about doing things wrong and difficulties finding and recruiting candidates. She then demonstrated how WorkFit can overcome these barriers by providing training, resources and on-going support to help employers access a range of benefits for their organisation, such as securing dedicated and motivated staff and reducing recruitment costs.

South Manchester Employment Liaison Officer John Henry spoke next. He talked about his personal connection to the project – his daughter has Down’s syndrome. Before joining the WorkFit team John had volunteered with the South Manchester Support Group. He spoke about the importance of listening to employers and how his daughter’s Down’s syndrome is “only a small part of who she is”. John also told the audience about the success of the South Manchester bowling event that has been organised to allow candidates with Down’s syndrome to talk about their workplace ambitions in a more relaxed environment.

The first guest presentation was delivered by Christopher and Vicky from Sports City Eastlands Trust. Christopher has worked for the Trust since 2016 as a Leisure Assistant, in a paid volunteering position for 2 days a week. Christopher spoke of how nice his colleagues are to work with as well as his strong relationship with his work buddy John- which has allowed Christopher to flourish in the role. He also discussed the social side of his job, reminiscing about attending last year’s Christmas party which he’d thoroughly enjoyed. Christopher’s colleague Vicky told the audience of how she was nervous before Christopher joined, but now wants him to stay for as long as possible. She said “he is a fantastic individual with great personality. He often catches people out- he’s that good”. She went onto praise Christopher’s strong computer skills and the positive benefits this has brought to the office.

The second guest presentation was from Ben and Chirag from Barclays bank. Ben began by describing how he had got involved with WorkFit. He explained that he had never thought of hiring a person with Down’s syndrome before, but was inspired by his wife’s work supporting people with learning disabilities. He spoke of what a pleasure it had been watching Chirag grow, and that Chirag’s confidence had increased over the course of his placement so he is now able to meet and greet customers at the branch. After the event Ben told us how fantastic it had been to attend: “I was so proud to see how confident Chirag was at the conference. Our friendship will continue even though this journey is ending. He has come a long way from who he was when we first met, I underappreciated the benefits and impact for him and I really hope you are able to find another placement for us soon.”

During the lunch and networking session, attendees with Down’s syndrome were invited to take make “Mocktails” at the bar, giving them the chance to create their own non-alcoholic drinks.

Following lunch, Linda Watson from the Department for Work and Pensions gave a presentation on the Access to Work scheme. She outlined the individual practical support that the service offers such as travel fares and job coach costs. Her key point to the audience was “Access to Work is a positive benefit to employers, as it allows them to retain good workers at no extra cost to them”.

Everyone who spoke at the conference was an inspiration and we are delighted to see the candidates doing so well. We also heard from The Countess of Chester Hospital, HCC solicitors and the Reader and we’ll be sharing another blog shortly about their presentations.

It was clear that employers regard their employees with Down’s syndrome as providing real benefit to their workplaces and that WorkFit’s support, both before and during a placement, is crucial in allowing this to happen.

We are always pleased to hear from any employer who might be interested in hiring a person with Down’s syndrome. Click here to register your interest and a member of the team will be in touch.

WorkFit North is possible due to the Big Lottery Fund

WorkFit supports people with Down’s syndrome to access meaningful work opportunities that can benefit the rest of their lives. For more information about WorkFit please contact the team on 0333 12 12 300 or email us on dsworkfit@downs-syndrome.org.uk

For more information visit the WorkFit website: www.dsworkfit.org.uk