Meet the Harrogate charity that's providing life-changing opportunities for young people with disabilities
A Harrogate charity is leading the way with its innovative approach to providing meaningful and life-changing opportunities in the workplace for young people with disabilities.
The Harrogate Skills 4 Living Centre (HS4LC) is running a supported internships programme aimed at 16-24 year olds, called Skills Bridge, in partnership with a number of prestigious Harrogate employers - including the likes of Rudding Park and ESS Army Foundation College.
The scheme celebrates and showcases the raft of invaluable skills and qualities that people with disabilities bring to an employer - and the internships are proving to be a pivotal gateway and catalyst for other opportunities and experiences.
The Chief Executive Officer of the HS4LC, Hadyn Moorby-Davies, said: “It is making a massive difference, it gives them an opportunity over a long period of time to show skills that they perhaps might have struggled to get across in a formal interview environment.
“It’s a chance to gain vital work experience, and we are seeing our interns really grow in confidence.” When you consider that the unemployment rate for people with a disability was 9.3 per cent in July to September last year, compared to 3.7 per cent for people without disabilities, the Skills Bridge programme provides important proof that disability should be no barrier.
Hadyn said: “We want to be able to demonstrate that people with disabilities can be valued in the workplace and have real jobs with real pay, and we think that this is the best possible step towards that.
“There is evidence to suggest that people with disabilities are very loyal employees and have a positive effect on the teams that they work with. They can contribute different ways of thinking and different ways of approaching things.”
Whilst the Skills Bridge programme is still relatively new, it’s already been embraced by a number of prominent Harrogate district employers. However, Hadyn recognises that there is still work to be done to break down any lingering misperception and stigma around disability - showing companies who might not initially see the benefits of the scheme, just how mutually valuable it is.
Hadyn said: “There can still be a stigma because of a lack of understanding or lack of experience of working with young people with disabilities. Companies can be worried about health and safety, and there’s perhaps a fear of, ‘how do I communicate, and how do I approach someone with a disability?’
“People can be afraid of what they don’t understand. There is a long history of people with disabilities being segregated and locked up in institutions, but now we live in an age where they are much more included in the community, and it’s more common for people with learning disabilities to be seen.
“I have been pleased with the organisations who are keen to help and see the benefits of a more diverse workforce.”
Rudding Park has taken on two talented interns - Kallum Takacs, who is working as part of the gardening team - and Liv Quinn, who has joined the food and beverage team.
Rudding Park’s managing director, Peter Banks, said: “We recognise that young people, with or without disabilities, have an enormous amount that they can contribute to the workplace, but it is vital they get the opportunity to gain hands on experience to boost their confidence and further their development.
“People with learning disabilities typically take longer to learn new tasks, but with the right support they can overcome difficulties and have a better chance of gaining paid employment.
“As a local business it is important for us to integrate with the local community and we love getting involved with fantastic initiatives such as the Harrogate Skills 4 Living Centre's Skills Bridge programme to help support the next generation. It is incredibly rewarding and we encourage other businesses to get involved.
“Kallum and Liv not only offer a fresh pair of eyes and enthusiasm, they also offer the opportunity for our existing team to develop their skills, such as care, patience, compassion and empathy – all vital in the hospitality industry.”
The HS4LC team are passionate about ensuring that their support goes beyond the internship itself - wherever possible, they work with young people to help them progress into paid employment afterwards.
The positive impact of the supported internships is obvious - you only have to go down to the centre’s premises on North Park Road to speak to the interns to know that.
Dylan Lees, 16, who is completing an internship with ESS at the Army Foundation College, said: “It made me re-think my life choices. When I first started, I was quite shy, but this gives you more opportunities to do stuff that you’ve never really thought about. I’ve definitely built up more confidence.”
Jake Gill, 18, and Alex Layton, 17, also spoke of the great benefits of the Skills Bridge programme - both Jake and Alex said they have really enjoyed working as part of a team.
St Aidan’s CE High School have also been great champions of organising work opportunities for young people with disabilities. Sixth former Sam McQuire is thriving in his role at Morrisons cafe.
Sam said: “I feel epic when I work there, I get on really well with the people who work there.” The school’s business and community partnerships manager, Marian Farrar, said: “In his last two years at school, the benefits of spending one day a week in the workplace has been a tremendous opportunity for Sam.
“He is a real people person, and his experience at Morrisons cafe has enabled him not only to see for himself how much his skills are valued in the workplace, but also to demonstrate his ability to learn and progress in a job role and become a valued member of a team.”
Find out more
Every intern who is enrolled on the Skills Bridge programme has individual learning targets set at the start, which includes elements of English and maths, and they are supported throughout by a job coach who helps them with every aspect of their journey into the world of work. Are you part of a Harrogate district business or organisation that would be interested in taking part in the Skills Bridge programme? The Harrogate Skills 4 Living Centre would love to hear from you. Call 01423 593719, or email [email protected]