Real life stories
Like most students on work experience, Louise has mastered the art of making the perfect cup of tea. She’s been answering the phone, filing and photocopying, and has her own desk. It has taken a few months to settle in, but now Louise is going to the office without her support worker, Sally, to accompany her.
“I like being in the office,” says Louise. “Sally has stepped back now, which was difficult at first, but I have kept going and I have got used to it. I enjoy it.”
Life beyond college looks promising for 22-year-old Louise, who has multiple learning difficulties and mild cerebral palsy. She has spent the last three years studying at Livability’s Hinwick Hall College, on the Northamptonshire-Bedfordshire border. Now it is time for her to graduate, and she has a wide range of skills to carry into her new life.
In a project pioneered this year, Louise is one of 20 Hinwick students to take on a work experience placement. She has spent some of her final year at Hinwick – a specialist college for 16-24 year olds with a wide range of physical disabilities and learning difficulties – working at Livability’s Lifestyle Choices office in Bedford. “I’ve learned practical skills, like how to use a laminator and a stapler,” says Louise. “But I’ve also learned how to get on with people in the office.”
“During the past year the work experience programme has proved to be an extremely valuable enhancement to the lives of the students,” says Sally Matthews, support worker and work experience co-ordinator at Hinwick. Some employers are still reluctant to take on disabled work experience students, but Sally believes there is much to be gained from the opportunities offered by the college. “Work experience raises the students’ self-esteem and self-worth,” she says.
I have become so independent
Louise, Hinwick student
Throughout her time at Hinwick, Louise has steadily grown in confidence. “When I first started, I was nervous about leaving Mum and Dad,” she says. “I’m an only child, and I missed seeing them every day. But now, they don’t hear from me very often because I have become so independent…the best thing about Hinwick is having my own flat – my own space. I’ve made friends here, especially my best friend Jade. I know we’ll keep in touch when we leave.”
Students each write a ‘destination statement’ and are guided carefully by staff members, so that they can find the best work experience possible. For example, one student this year wanted to train as a car mechanic, but due to his physical limitations, this would not have been a realistic option for him. Instead, staff recommended he try working in a car show room.
During her meetings, Louise identified an interest in photography. She has learned to download photos as part of the ICT qualification she has gained at college. Now, when she leaves Hinwick, she plans to study photography at another specialist college. The confidence she has built up during the work experience programme means she has high hopes and every chance of success for her working life.
“In the future, I’d like to sell the pictures I have taken,” she says. “I’d also like to work in a camera shop or photographer’s studio – but I haven’t decided yet.”
- Moving from full-time education to life in the wider world can be a traumatic and difficult time for disabled people. Livability works hard to make the transition as smooth as possible, by equipping its students with solid life experiences as well as transferable skills.