Zach takes his catering credentials to the next level with help from Michelin star chef

Zach learning in the kitchen with Adam

31 July 2019.

A young Coventry man has embarked on a catering career in the kitchen of a Michelin star chef, with help from Grapevine’s Connect2Work project.

Adam and Zach at The Cross pub
Adam and Zach (right)

Since starting last November, Zach has surprised everyone with his mature attitude and commitment to such a pressured environment straight out of college. Zach, however, is taking it all in his stride – so much so that he has now gone a step further by moving into his first flat close to work.

What makes these achievements even more special is that Zach, who has autism, has found a new social circle centred around his job and an encouraging boss who works closely with him to make the most of his role.

Zach learning in the kitchen with Adam
Zach is learning on the job and making friends too

Adam Bennett, head chef at The Cross in Kenilworth, said: “Employing Zach has been an entirely positive experience.

“He has become a valued and trusted member of the team, always doing his best and always completing tasks precisely the way he has been taught.”

And while Zach is currently working as a kitchen porter, Adam hopes he’ll steadily add to his skills at a pace Adam is happy for Zach to set.

His growing confidence in the workplace has spurred him on to move out of home – showing just how secure he feels about his job and the friends he is making there.

Adam, Zach and Kitty in the restaurant
Adam, Zach and Kitty in the restaurant

Project worker Kitty Wright said: “Stories like Zach’s are becoming more common but there is still a big disparity between the percentage of the general population aged 16-64 who are in paid employment, and people who have a learning disability or autism – 74 per cent are working compared to just six per cent.”

Kitty and Zach applied for the kitchen porter position but Kitty asked to visit The Cross in advance of a telephone interview to help Zach familiarise himself with the restaurant.

Adam concludes: “I would urge other employers to seriously consider employing staff with a learning disability or autism.

“The commitment we have made to Zach has resulted in an employee who really values his position, which gives us stability in a key role in the kitchen.

“It is also very rewarding for me as an employer to see Zach settle and progress as a young man with The Cross as part of his life.”

25th anniversary logo

We wish Zach every success in the future. We are celebrating his story to help mark 25 years of Grapevine this year and show the impact of our work on people and communities.

Connect2Work is the employment strand of the Help and Connect project in Coventry, aimed at people who have a learning disability or autism but don’t use any formal social services.

It cuts across four strands – staying healthy, staying safe, getting work and building friendships, connections and support networks – and is commissioned by Coventry City Council.

Libby ‘Accelerates’ into teaching career

2 July 2019.

A young woman from Coventry is heading for a bright future in teaching, thanks to a free employment support service designed to help people who are at a disadvantage when looking for paid work.

The need for the Accelerate project is clear when you see the stats. Just six per cent of adults with a learning disability or autism* are in paid employment, compared to 74 per cent of the general population aged 16-64.

Libby and her family turned to Alex Rigler from Grapevine for help following a few false starts entering the world of work after school. Grapevine forms part of the Accelerate partnership of local organisations providing coordinated employment support.

Alex explains: “Many employers have the best of intentions during the recruitment process but once a candidate with a learning disability or autism is successful in securing a role, support and reasonable adjustments to help them do their job are sometimes simply not in place or made flexible enough to adapt to any changes.”

Libby originally aspired to be an actress, studying drama at college in Stratford-upon-Avon. However, she soon realised that rehearsing and performing in front of an audience were two very different things. Working behind the scenes became more appealing.

After trying her hand at scriptwriting and some voluntary work at local Coventry station Radio Plus though, Libby and Alex tested the waters with retail. None were quite the right fit for Libby.

But everything changed after spotting an advertisement for lunchtime supervisors at Stivichall Primary School, close to Coventry’s War Memorial Park. Libby was keen to apply.

25th anniversary logo

The school welcomed them both in for a pre-interview visit before Libby faced a panel of three (with Alex there for support) and after a few initial nerves, sailed through.

Jayne Davies, school business manager, said: “We actually struck gold that day – finding two strong candidates who could co-manage the other lunchtime supervisors and bring their different strengths to the table.

“We looked beyond any possible challenges and necessary adjustments to see Libby’s potential as a leader and she has gone on to make such a difference to our school team.”

With lunchtimes running smoothly – including a suggestion book to help staff get involved in making positive changes – teachers have moved from rostered playground duties back into the classroom.

And Libby hasn’t stopped there, reigniting her interest in drama by running an after-school club for the children and also helping them gain their maths times tables badges week by week.

Libby said: “I understand from my own experiences how sitting tests can be hard for some and so I make earning the badges as fun as possible – with quick fire quizzes and laps around the room!”

Alex (left) and Libby

She’s also rapidly working her way through her part-time studies to become a teaching assistant. A course that Coventry City Council’s apprenticeship team extended from one to two years but is now not looking like it will take Libby that long.

Alex concludes: “Libby’s journey is a fantastic example of not being deterred by knockbacks and staying focused on the prize. Her anxieties were just getting the better of her during the recruitment process.

“The school continues to wrap their support around her when it’s needed – including providing a mentor from their leadership team – but they stand back when it’s her turn to take charge.

“Libby is a credit to herself and to the Accelerate project and I am proud to have played a part in what will hopefully be a promising teaching career.”

*who are known to their local authority in England.

About Accelerate

Accelerate is a partnership of local organisations that specialise in supporting people in Coventry and Warwickshire who would like to work but for various reasons find it hard to get a job and enjoy all the benefits that employment brings.

The partnership includes training providers, charities, housing associations, disability support, women’s only services, well-being and mental health organisations, enterprise start-up, childcare providers, local authorities, community radio and employer networks.

Accelerate is a Building Better Opportunities Project funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.

Find out more here.

Let’s get Around the Kitchen Table!

Jen from Self Care Social

11 June 2019.

It’s Loneliness Awareness Week next week (17-21 June) and the government also launches its #LetsTalkLoneliness campaign to help reduce the stigma associated with admitting to feeling lonely and the vital importance of social connections.

Our Self Care Social ‘Building Connections’ project is funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and the National Lottery Community Fund to prevent or reduce loneliness in people with long term health conditions in Coventry. The aim is for all participants to experience a sense of connected community – and that is where Around the Kitchen Table comes in. It’s about getting people together over a shared interest or skill they’d like to learn together. Our video shows ‘Art Breakfast Club’ to give you an example.

We want to tackle isolation and loneliness by sparking the kind of community action that helps people to organise themselves and lead their own solutions. Getting people Around the Kitchen Table is the perfect chance to do this!

The toolkit consists of a set of questions and suggestions to help you think about how to get your own initiative started and it focuses on three areas:

  • Purpose – what is it that you want to achieve?
  • People – who do you need to gather around you to make this happen?
  • Places – where can/will you gather?

In addition to the information, Grapevine’s Jen is also in the toolkit! A real-life person to chat your ideas through with and to help you create a successful Around the Kitchen Table. She can’t wait to hear your ideas – please contact her on jcooke@grapevinecovandwarks.org to get the full toolkit.

Organisations without walls

A Better Way Network logo

4 June 2019.

“And again there was that sense of relationships being able to keep on giving and reconfigure themselves around new problems.”

Our CEO Clare Wightman has written a new blog for an independent network of social change activists known as ‘A Better Way’.

Clare Wightman
Clare

Many of the members, of which she is one, are from the voluntary sector but others are from different sectors. Their common vision is of helping to liberate people’s potential rather than writing them off as problems, difficult to reach localities and hard hit communities.

Clare’s latest blog is about services having their place but also their limits. What people need in life, she says, is other good people around them who can back them up, encourage, problem solve and find opportunities.

The outcome being that these people and networks of help are there when services can’t be.

It doesn’t mean that services can walk away and leave people to it. It means that this is the kind of help that flexes, reciprocates and strengthens in ways services can’t.

“It’s our way of creating ‘organisations without walls’ where people and solutions come first, not organisational identities and self interests.”

To read more, click here.

CYA Sofa Safari in Coventry city centre? Tell us more!

Getting ready for show time

28 May 2019.

The sun was smiling down on Coventry Youth Activists’ (CYA) performance for youth loneliness last Saturday (25 May).

CYA and their sofa were at Broadgate in the city centre to raise awareness of the troubling statistic that one in three young disabled people spend less than an hour outside of home on a Saturday.

Open Theatre Company provided the artistic direction to the ‘sofa safari’ performance dreamed up by CYA, and the safari element was made possible by Imagineer UK giving movement to the sofa through wheels.

All told, it was an attention grabbing event that disrupted the bustling shopping area’s usual Saturday happenings and propelled a group of determined young people straight into the spotlight.

CYA’s Lily explains: “We fight for disabled people’s rights… they can be kind of bored and alone and we want to change that. So people can get out more and be accepted and just make everyone feel they fit in.

“So we thought if we did this, it would get it out more so people would find out about it.”

And they have. A very big well done and thank you to all of you.

Here’s our pick of the best pics – click to enlarge each photo. Find out more about CYA and how you might like to join in here.

Rehearsals at EGO Performance Company.

Performance preparations.

Show time!

Photographs by John Whitmore Photography | Follow @thedarkshed on Instagram.

‘Crafting’ community the Grapevine way

Bell Green library arts and crafts group

17 April 2019.

A purl-er of an idea from two women who met at a Coventry knitting group is blossoming into a network of friends coming together weekly to chat, craft and overcome isolation.

Even when one member is having a bad week or thinks they may not show up, the others rally round and they come anyway.

So how did the arts and crafts group start?

Michelle, from Grapevine’s Help and Connect project, met Tracy at Bell Green library’s knitting circle – a large, animated, all-female group who gather each Thursday to swap skills and put the world to rights.

Although beneficial for many, Michelle and Tracy felt the dynamics weren’t quite right for quieter voices who needed time to talk and get to know others first.

The ladies they were thinking of had learning disabilities, long term health conditions or different experiences with their mental health.

So the duo took a shared love of arts and crafts – plus a generous helping of Tracy’s personal craft supplies – and set up a new, smaller group on a different day.

Still at the library, the two-hour Tuesday session provides a space to create and catch up on the week’s events, lending an empathetic ear, advice or practical support as needed.

There are five core members (including a man now) of the purposely select group, meaning it remains safe and supportive – no posters on a notice board here. Everyone involved is accepting of one another’s differences.

Tea and crafts at the library
Members bring a contribution towards refreshments

Its need is undeniable as people regularly arrive early and leave later than the scheduled finish time. The session helps them feel more connected.

The library location has stuck because it is local and accessible even on days when it can be hard to leave the house. The library provides hot water and the group brings the tea, coffee and biscuits.

The five have also enjoyed Christmas lunch together at a local café and a cooked breakfast at another eatery across town.

Tracy windmill painting
Tracy’s latest painting

Encouragement was evident at the session we attended when painting was on the agenda (other crafts have included Christmas decorations and 5D art) as Tracy coaxed: “If you always do the same thing, you never stretch yourself and you never find out what you can do.”

A fitting way to sum it up we thought.

Michelle recalls another recent exchange with Tracy along the lines of: “Are we doing something good here then?” – to which Michelle replied, “You don’t realise the impact this is having on people!”

From small gestures, come big things. And when Michelle moves on to help others get connected, she can be sure the group will continue.

Help and Connect by Grapevine is commissioned by Coventry City Council.

We’re celebrating this story as one of our 25 stories for 25 years of Grapevine. Look out for more stories and a big event coming this October!

25th anniversary logo

No ordinary gig…

The gang

2 April 2019.

An early Spring evening in Coventry, the last Saturday of March. Crowds are arriving for a gig at a former coal storage bunker in the city’s Canal Basin, now a thriving music and arts venue.

Molly and Kirsty on the door
Molly and Kirsty on the door

But this is no ordinary gig – it’s months of hard work come to fruition to take one troubling statistic and make inroads into changing it.

This is the first Coventry Youth Activists (CYA) #CYASaturdays gig, a campaign aiming to challenge the fact that one in three young disabled people spend less than an hour outside their home on a Saturday. A day when most other people are out and about enjoying what the weekend has to offer.

The story behind the statistic tells how for some of these young people logistics can be the problem – wheelchair access for example – and for others, fear of the unknown, not knowing how to find the place they want to go to and what to do once they get there, stop the fun before it even starts.

Some of CYA chat before the gig
Some of CYA chat before the gig

So Grapevine’s youth democracy group set about doing something about it and everyone – CYA included – has been amazed by its success.

#CYASaturdays Presents SOLD OUT with over 100 gig-goers of all abilities coming to The Tin Music and Arts event on 30 March.

It showcased three acts, all donating their time for free, plus inimitable double act Rishard and Richard (referring to themselves as Coventry’s answer to Ant and Dec) compering the night.

Rishard and Richard
Rishard and Richard

Young people came from all over the city, finding out about the event through social media, events and meet ups and school mailers. Some came with family, others with friends and some had never been to a gig before. Three even got up on stage to sing!

One Mum commented that her son enjoyed the gig and for her “it was important as it provided an opportunity for him to be a 14-year-old.” And that’s the whole point really.

The CYA ‘crew’ wore their trademark yellow t-shirts firstly to offer a point of contact for anyone feeling unsure and secondly so they could rightly own the success of the night!

Izeidi Izeidi perform
Izeidi Izeidi perform

But they didn’t do it alone. So a big thank you to the venue, to the acts Izeidi Izeidi, Duck Thieves, Lily Hayes (from CYA), Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls. And of course, everyone who came and had fun! Until next time… [mic drop].

Photos by John Whitmore Photography.

About CYA and Grapevine’s 25th anniversary

CYA is a group of young people of all abilities who want to challenge and change inequalities faced by themselves and others.

Their numbers have grown from two when the group was first funded by the Henry Smith Charity in 2017 to 17 this month.

25th anniversary logo

We’re celebrating their story as the first of our 25 stories for 25 years of Grapevine. Look out for more stories and a big event coming in October!

CYA are meeting fortnightly to progress their next #CYASaturdays ideas into plans and action. Want to know more, get involved or offer help? Check them out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or email mgillespie@grapevinecovandwarks.org

Charity dinner and dance proceeds help young people get the future they want

Charity dance cheque presentation

6 March 2019.

A charity dinner and dance hosted by a community organisation in aid of Grapevine has raised almost £3,800 to help fund a project that will see 40 young people with learning disabilities plan for the future they want over the next two years.

The Great Gatbsy themed event at the Doubletree Hilton hotel in Walsgrave in November last year saw guests dressed up 1920s style, dining and dancing to Bollywood, Bhangra and Western music.

Charity dance cheque presentation

The donated money from tickets sold at the successful event can now be channelled into Big Plan training after some of the team from Leuva Patidar Samaj – Coventry, Rugby, Nuneaton (LPS-CRN) handed the £3,789.54 cheque over earlier this week. Included in the amount is £1,000 match-funded by Barclays and a donation of £150 from Jaguar Land Rover.

The Big Plan will take the progress established by Grapevine’s Teenvine Plus project (and others over the last ten years) to a whole new level.

Where Teenvine Plus helps bring together a circle of support around a young person who has a learning disability to grow their confidence, resilience and independence, the Big Plan sees them making plans for their future not on a 1:1 basis but alongside other people their age, plus their families.

This means a far wider network of group supporters all contributing to and encouraging one another’s dreams and aspirations. The more people in the room, the more opportunities to discover talents and resources that can help the young people on their journey.

The result is a Big Plan for a great life.

Grapevine Deputy CEO Mel Smith said: “I am both humbled and delighted for the funds raised to enhance the work we do with young people.

“We also want to train the majority of our staff in this way – we can then maximise the reach of the Big Plan so that it has a greater impact for people with learning disabilities across Coventry.”

LPS-CRN is a member organisation affiliated to registered charity Leuva Patidar Samaj – UK. Its members are from the Surat, Navsari and Valsad districts of southern Gujarat in India.

It has raised more than £20,000 over the last few years for other worthwhile local causes including the Air Ambulance Service and a children’s hospice.

Kiran Patel, President of LPS Coventry, Rugby and Nuneaton said: “It was an honour to be a part of this project and raise thousands to support the great work that Grapevine undertakes.

“None of this would be possible without the kind support and generosity of all the sponsors, raffle prize donors and the attending guests who whole heartedly support these events.

“We would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt gratitude to everyone involved.”

Click here to find out more about fundraising or volunteering for Grapevine.

CYA Saturdays Presents… their first ever live gig!

5 February 2019.

What do an 18th century former coal storage bunker and a group of young Coventry activists have in common? Well, they’re combining next month to host a live gig like no other at the heart of the city’s Canal Basin.

CYA Saturdays Presents gig poster

For those who don’t know, Coventry Youth Activists (or CYA as they’re known) are a group of young disabled people who want to say “CYA” to the inequalities faced by themselves and others.

They identify the issues that are important to them, give them a good shake and come up with campaigns that set about changing these barriers.

The #CYASaturdays Presents… gig on 30 March is one facet of their latest campaign to challenge the disheartening statistic that one in three young people spend less than an hour outside their home on Saturday.

The Saturday night showcase – on a Saturday of course! – features local talent in the shape of bands Duck Thieves, Izeidi Izeidi and CYA’s own singer/songwriter/guitarist Lily Hayes.

Lily says: ““I have autism but I won’t let it stop me from being a singer. It’s who I am and is part of me.”

The night will be compered by actor / theatre maker duo Rishard Beckett and Richard Walls.

The gig is accessible to all and tickets are just £4 in advance or £6 on the door. The venue is The Tin Music and Arts – a charitable organisation committed to fostering art, creativity and talent at the Canal Basin and throughout the city.

So come out and support what will be a great night as well as a good cause. There’ll be music, laughter and a few surprises and above all you’ll be making a group of young activists very happy! We want as many people there as possible who don’t usually get out and about on a Saturday too.

Get your tickets here – show starts at 8pm.

You can also check out @Covactivists on Instagram.

H Team brings learning disability to life for trainee social workers

The H Team

15 January 2019.

The next generation of social workers from Coventry University have been getting an insight into people with a learning disability directly from the very people who know the most about it!

Grapevine’s Sam and a core group of people with different learning disabilities who make up the H Team visited the university last month for the innovative session.

The H Team
Here come the H Team!

The ‘H’ stands for Health and that is what the team is all about – educating peers, professionals and services alike on how to stay healthy and well when you have a learning disability.

This advice and training is vital for a section of the community proven to have generally poorer physical and mental health and a significantly lower life expectancy than the rest of the population.

But it wouldn’t be this way if there was greater uptake on annual health checks with GPs, promptly diagnosed health conditions, effective treatment and more informed self care.

And improvements can always be made in the way health and social care professionals communicate with people with a learning disability – hence the need for some interesting training right at the beginning of a career in social work.

During the Coventry University awareness session, students were able to get to know the seven members of the H Team, each one with his or her own unique story, likes and dislikes.

Games and quizzes helped break down any barriers, including one called ‘Scaredy Pants’ where the students wrote their fears on paper pants hung on a make-shift washing line.

Each fear was examined with H Team participants giving students advice and strategies to help overcome them. Some fears were even reflected on both sides – for example, a fear of communicating in a way that was not understood or misinterpreted. The students didn’t want to make a person uncomfortable and the H Team didn’t want to appear ‘stupid’ for not understanding.

The ‘New Perspective’ game then sees society’s labels discarded on the floor and ‘Mum’ or ‘Activist’ (and many others) used instead. Team members said they are not defined by their disability.

By the end of the session, the students and H Team were working together to develop an assessment tool that would equip professionals to phrase questions in different ways and encourage them to consider individuals holistically, particularly including their mental health. Social prescribing and making community connections may be things not previously considered for example.

“We got great feedback,” Sam said. “The students loved the session – having the H Team there to talk to them and give them advice was better than any pen exercise! It was learning through a first-hand experience that they will always remember.”

H Team sessions like this continue on a regular basis throughout the year and the H Team is always looking for new members to bring diversity and knowledge to their group.

If this could be you or someone you know, please call Sam on 02476 631040 extension 112 or email skeoghcollins@grapevinecovandwarks.org