Opening doors for young people with learning disabilities: Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust leads the way with DFN Project SEARCH
In a ground-breaking partnership, Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust (WAHT) has joined forces with Regency High School in Worcestershire and DFN Project SEARCH, to launch a supported internship program aimed at transforming the lives of young adults who have special educational needs and disabilities.
This initiative, running until July 2024 (2025?), allows 16 to 24-year-old students who hold an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) to gain valuable work experience within the hospital setting, empowering them to take their first positive steps into the world of work.
WAHT, in collaboration with Worcestershire Children First, Worcestershire County Council, and Hft, the learning disability charity and supported employment provider, has become the first employer in the county to champion DFN Project SEARCH – a national transition-to-work programme for students with a learning disability and/or autism spectrum conditions.
Libby Marshall, Apprenticeship and Widening Participation Lead at Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “This is a fantastic collaboration and one which is supported nationally by NHS England. We are proud to be the first employer championing Project Search in Worcestershire and it will help us promote the Trust as a diverse and inclusive workplace.”
Throughout the first semester, interns like Jack Cook, Ethan Kenny, Michaela Goodger, and Josh Hines have made significant contributions to departments such as Catering, Operations, and Pathology at Worcestershire Royal Hospital.
Sarah Price, Pre-Analytics Manager in the Pathology Department, commended Josh Hines for his commitment and attention to detail. “The team has been very supportive of Josh, and he has fitted in brilliantly,” she added.
Assistant Headteacher at Regency High School, Gemma Willetts, said: “We are incredibly proud of the students’ hard work and commitment. Project SEARCH is having a huge impact on their personal and social development, opening doors and their eyes to employment prospects they may not have previously imagined.”
Hft Employability Coach, Claire Moseley, extended gratitude to the hospital Trust’s teams, emphasising their warm welcome and ongoing support. “Their incredible support from the beginning is greatly appreciated and has helped enormously in settling our students in to their placements, particularly in such a busy work environment as the hospital,” she said.
As the internship program progresses into the upcoming semester, Jack and Ethan, along with all of the other interns, are looking forward to further working with the teams and the continued development of their skills.
Ethan said: “Working here has been rewarding, and the people have been very welcoming.”
Jack said: “I have enjoyed learning to be a chef, which is something I have always wanted to do. The support from my colleagues has been very helpful.”
Libby added: “These personal reflections underscore the transformative impact of Project SEARCH, not only in acquiring valuable work experience but also in fostering an environment where individuals can flourish in their chosen professional endeavours.”
Over 70% of young people graduating from DFN Project SEARCH programmes find paid employment, defying the national employment figures highlighting that only 4.8% of people with a learning disability or autism spectrum condition in England are in full-time paid employment. The independent registered charity aims to support 10,000 young people with learning disabilities into paid work by 2030.
Hft works with DFN Project SEARCH on a number of programmes across England and Wales, helping bridge the gap between education and employment by creating supported employment internships in varied sectors across the UK.
Notes to editors
Hft is a national charity that creatively supports more than 2,200 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Services range from residential care to supporting people to live independently in their own homes – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.
Established in 1962, Hft is funded in two ways: through local authorities, who fund vital support services, but also through donors, supporters and volunteers who enable us to find new ways to help more people to thrive rather than just get by.
For more information about Hft please visit www.hft.org.uk