People have been gently prompting me for the last few months to get my act together and start a blog… I wasn’t convinced if I’m honest, although I read others with interest, I just couldn’t figure where I might focus one… there was just so much that could be covered. Then, Helen Sanderson, HSA said to me, quite simply, “write about the people that you’ve recently met who have really inspired you”. Simple.

I joined the sector through ARC 2 years ago, and the thing that has struck me most is the people in it: the people the sector supports and the workers who support them, CEO’s who know their organisations backwards and sideways; their staff, families and family carers battling tirelessly to ensure the best care possible is given to their loved ones. I don’t think I have had one week where such people haven’t inspired me in one way or another…

Last month proved to be no different. Earlier in the month I judged the Peoples’ Award with Andrea Pope Smith, Learning Disability Lead with ADASS, as part of the first National Learning Disability Awards – we’re speaking at it on Friday –

We met seven Peoples’ Award nominees and the people who work with them. They had been nominated by local people across England for the work that they did – sometimes it was paid work, often it was voluntary work – all of it had been recognised as making a really valuable contribution to others, driven by a desire to make a difference and do something worthwhile.

Does work make a difference?

Robert Carr, would agree that work makes a difference. Robert was joined by Karen Martin, representing Harvest and Help a group set up by a team of eight people who attended Gateshead Councils Day Opportunities service which has developed into a user led enterprise. H&H (Harvest & Help, Gateshead Council) now offer work experience to young people interested in horticulture, producing and selling fruit and veg, hanging baskets and potted plants for local people. It’s also a business that has won tenders for gardening and ground maintenance work for local residents, businesses and warehouses. The team maintain their humble beginnings – the allotment at Kibblesworth has developed into a sensory garden which provides a relaxed setting for people with visual or other sensory impairments and the team has won numerous awards including best allotment. Talking to Robert reminded me that work should be a good craic, and he and the team came across as friendly and fun to be with. It’s easy to understand why many of the older customers who live alone say they look forward to them working on their gardens.

Teams from The Smart Enterprise would also impress on anyone who’d care to listen that work makes a difference. The Smart Enterprise is a training business whose core principle is to challenge stereotypes and prejudices about what it means to have a disability and to get people to recognise the potential of disabled people. Sarah Pryce, Marianne Scallon, and Rosemary Summerfield all did that when we met them. Marianne described how working for The Smart Enterprise has helped her to help others, saying, “I am now more confident, understand my behaviour better – and also I get paid!” Rosemary agreed: “The Smart Enterprise helps me to help others because we share our experiences with those working with people with disabilities – in this way we help them to help us“.

Eddie Morecroft, from We Can Do It Training pointed out that, “there’s more to life than day opps!” and described to the judges how getting the right support had made a difference to his life and had lead him to set up a Community Interest Company delivering training to support staff across Nottinghamshire. Eddie described how setting up a company, and bringing in new business through word of mouth had boosted his self-esteem and independence. The drive and determination he articulated was that which you’d expect to see behind any successful business, saying, “the most important thing is that we do the work and that we all get paid for it”’.

The right to work

We all have the right to work, it’s not always easy to find it, for any of us, but people with learning disabilities are often not given real opportunities to realise their potential. Less than 7% of people with a Learning Disability are in paid employment, yet 65% would like a paid job.

We’re planning to lead our first Let’s See Eye to Eye event in Hartlepool on 20th May, aiming to look at why so few people are supported to find a job or take training to find something that interests them. Of course it may not be easy and not everyone will go out and get their dream job, but all the nominees we had the pleasure to meet are real example of how important it is to develop a passion, and do something that really makes a contribution.

It was clear that getting a salary is important part of being recognised for our contribution, but it’s important that we don’t under estimate the real value of making a contribution.

See the event page for more details and to book 

Jacqueline Bell