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.

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.

My journey into paid work by David

David from the Accelerate project

28 November 2018.

The Accelerate project helps people with a learning disability or autism find sustainable, paid employment.

Journey guides work on a one-to-one basis with participants, helping them understand and navigate the world of work.

David is one such participant who spent years trying to find the right opportunity for paid work – this is his story in his own words.

“My journey to paid employment has been a struggle, as I was abused, neglected and partly separated from society by my late adopted mother.

Even when I had paid work, I never had anything to do with my wages.

After my first meeting with Grapevine I realised I knew the interviewer, Mia.

Mia introduced me to Gordon at Grapevine, who helped me find creative writing groups and voluntary work with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

…in the hope that it would lead to a job I stuck with the Herbert ever since, like everyone else who made the effort to know what was going on with me, suggested.

I then had an opportunity for paid work at the Herbert in June 2014, but failed the interview as they felt I still needed to improve my confidence and skills.

David's journey into paid work
David never gave up on his search

So I kept trying for paid work, even looking at jobs outside of the Herbert, which I have been doing since 2002 by myself and since 2014 with Patrick from Open Doors (housing and support services).

We didn’t have much luck… Patrick then remembered Tess, who had helped other Open Doors tenants with paid employment.

Eventually Tess suggested a job scheme called Accelerate at Grapevine… Patrick and I took up the offer of joining Accelerate and this is when I met Alex.

David from Accelerate
David hopes his story will inspire others

Immediately Alex, in November 2016, found an opportunity for me with Russell’s Garden Centre. They said that I may or may not have a paid opportunity by March 2017, however gave me the chance to prove myself until then.

However, March came and went and I was still volunteering and looking for paid work due to not being qualified enough to replace a more skilled employee. Although they found me impressive enough to keep me as a volunteer.

As time went on with no luck in any paid opportunities for work I became worried that I would always be a volunteer.

However, I never gave up searching for paid opportunities and neither did Alex.

Due to this, as from October 2018, I am now a Casual Museum Assistant at the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum.

I am really happy I finally have paid work, although I feel I need time for it to sink in first, partly due to not having access to wages etc in my past and partly due to the end of the year being busy for me.

Plus, at the moment I am helping a colleague from the Herbert with plants for her garden with help from Russell’s Garden Centre.

I designed a plan for the garden in April last year and both her and her husband liked it and informed the gardener/builder of my idea and he finally finished it July this year.

Anyway even though I have a casual job at the Herbert, I am happy I finally have something to call my own and I hope my journey will inspire others.

If I can get there, anyone can.

David.”

Accelerate is a Building Better Opportunities Project funded by the European Social Fund and the National Lottery, through the Big Lottery Fund. It is delivered by a local partnership of organisations providing people with access to a wide range of job support services.

Community and opportunity on the up for people in Willenhall

Wood Side Family Hub

28 September 2018.

Sitting across the table from John Toman and Ravinder Dhadda, it is easy to get a strong sense of the time and energy they are committing to making the Ignite partnership a success.

John is the team leader of four Grapevine ‘connectors’ – himself included – and Ravinder, or Rav as she prefers to be called, is a legal advisor for Central England Law Centre. All are based primarily at Wood Side Family Hub – a Coventry City Council community facility in the heart of Willenhall.

John Toman from Ignite

Combining a constant flow of ‘connecting’ work with sound legal advice for local people since Ignite launched two years ago this month, John, Rav and the rest of the team are really starting to reap the rewards of their joint efforts, agreeing that this summer has been “the best six weeks so far”.

Those six weeks have seen Ignite trawling local primary school lost property stores for forgotten items of uniform and returning them to a clean, ready to be re-loved state with the use of the hub’s washing machine.

Local families coming to the usual Wednesday hub grub club (more on this later) were able to browse the collection and take whatever they needed – without having to come to a dedicated event and perhaps feel a little embarrassed about it.

The good will was subsequently returned when Mums and Dads who’d claimed items for their families, brought back their own outgrown uniforms for other parents to take home too.

Ravinder Dhadda from Ignite

Rav said: “There’s no stigma attached to needing larger-sized uniform all the time – children grow at a rapid rate – but sometimes people feel it anyway.

“Putting the clothing rail out at an event that was already happening allowed parents to take a look through, chat to their neighbours and experience a real sense of community with immediate effect.”

In fact, the uniform swap was such a success that next year John and Rav hope local groups such as Women of Willenhall (WoW) will take the helm, working with the community’s four primary schools and one another to keep it going.

“The hub had previously been seen as a ‘provider of needs’,” says John.

“But Ignite is showing how public services can partner with communities in new ways and as a result, people become more open to receiving help when they need it.”

Recently, that help has also included the aforementioned hub grub club to combat some of the ‘holiday hunger’ experienced by low income families feeding children all day during school holidays. This can often mean a choice between buying food and paying rent.

Some funding for the club came via the city council from national food poverty charity Feeding Britain and more came from direct food donations from the community.

The work complements existing help for families coming from St. John the Divine Church in Robin Hood Road and Midland Langer Service which provides basic food for communal settings in three Coventry temples.

Midland Langer Service has been bringing food to the Family Hub each week – creating a ‘takeaway’ style feel to Wednesday evenings where local people can socialise and enjoy a hot meal together.

Many children in Willenhall don’t have holidays away from home either, putting added pressure on parents to keep them entertained out of school. The Family Hub offers an outlet for this with an outdoor play area plus parties and workshops designed and delivered by groups such as Friends of Wood Side which was started up spontaneously by some local Mums.

During term time there’s a homework club on a Monday run by a local teenager.

These activities are just the tip of iceberg for the Ignite experiment, which has another two years left to run – with the hope of leaving a lasting legacy in Willenhall where public services act earlier, build community strength and release their capacity to solve many of their own problems as they arise.

The Ignite Partnership has its own dedicated website at www.cnccoventry.org.uk

Follow their activities and updates on Twitter @CoventryIgnite

Find out more about Coventry’s family hubs here.

The power of six – social action plan making headway in Stoke Aldermoor

28 September 2018.

Six women from Stoke Aldermoor are channelling their efforts into creating a social plan that could secure £250,000 of Big Lottery funding for their community.

The group meets weekly at the local community centre to exchange stories and ideas about how they might transform their neighbourhood for the better. They also meet once a month at Catherine’s Church for a social supper with another six residents who are interested in helping.

Welcome to Stoke Aldermoor Social Supper

Some of the forerunners from the ideas pooled so far include opening a one stop shop in the area for support; more training opportunities for young people; improved provision for families to build parenting skills and raise aspirations; a family walking group; a summer school; and the creation of an annual festival to celebrate Stoke Aldermoor’s diversity and boost community cohesion.

But this is no casual chat over a cuppa – these women with differing backgrounds, home lives and cultural heritage, are forging ahead with a joint plan to make these ideas happen. Women who may not otherwise have come into contact with one another had it not been for this common purpose.

Together they want to make the neighbourhood they inhabit better – moving away from issues of crime, drug use, community tensions, inadequate access to local travel networks and feelings of isolation towards realising their vision of a safer, more cohesive place to live.

They were connected by Mel and Dom from Grapevine who, together with Community Development Workers Lorna and Stef from Coventry City Council, had hundreds of conversations as well as listening events with local people.

Mel and Dom join the weekly sessions, rallying the women to keep their eyes on the prize and helping them develop the best plan to attract the funding they want.

They bolster the group with support from the further six ‘social supper’ residents plus four associate members – from the local library, Aldermoor Farm primary school, Stoke Aldermoor community centre and St Catherine’s Church.

Statutory agencies such as the city council are also remain in the mix, offering their specific expertise on neighbourhood services and local communities to the plan. More partner organisations have also expressed an interest in being involved.

Dom says: “Everyone involved is passionate about making change happen. But for a long while, Stoke Aldermoor’s experiences as a deprived area of Coventry has affected its residents and the perceptions of those outside of it.

“The frustration is how to change the area so people living there benefit from the same opportunities, neighbourliness and community pride we might see in other parts of the city.

“That doesn’t mean these things don’t already exist in Stoke Aldermoor – we just need to build them up.

“And part of that is the realisation they have the power to make the change themselves and sustain it for future generations.”

The future generation plays an important role in the present, as the group continues to develop its plan. The son and daughter of one of the Group members – who is originally from the Congo in Africa – have received listening training from Grapevine so they can in turn consult with 16-25 year olds in the area.

Dom continues: “We’re all trying to come at this with fresh eyes and an open agenda – what’s the dream and how can we get there? So who better to speak to young people than young people themselves?

“And just because there are currently six in the group, plus another ten supporting from the sidelines, we realise many more people care about the future of Stoke Aldermoor.

“We want them on board too so the voices of all sections of the community can be heard.”

The deadline for the social change plan to be submitted to Big Lottery Fund is the end of October – so watch this space for news!

Clare’s Adventures in South Africa

Global Gathering on Activism
Last week Clare traded Coventry for Boschendahl!

The trip was organised by The Social Change Initiative: the aim was to bring together SCI fellows, mentors and mentees in South Africa to coincide with an international gathering organized by SCI and the Global Citizens Circle of about 120 activists for a panel discussion with Desmond Tutu on effective activism. 

Read more about Clare’s adventures

 

 

The Power of Narrative: From No Chance to Hell Yeah!

Hell Yeah!

Mel Smith and Kyla Craig were invited to deliver a lecture to Occupational Therapy Students at Coventry University yesterday.

They shared stories, challenged, invited students to think about why they are passionate about OT. They got students to sit alongside them on the podium to bridge the gap between speaker and audience.

There was finger snapping (alternative clapping) and cries of ‘hell yeah’ so we think it went well!

 

 

Innovation factory

Have you been involved in something – an idea, an event, a project – where you felt really frazzled because it was all down to you? Perhaps it never even got off the ground? Or you worried that it would all stop after you had to pull away?

At the Innovation Factory this August 22nd and 23rd we will explore ways to engage and mobilise other people and build your capacity for action. Tools such as how to craft a compelling story, using campaign charts and understanding who your people are, are just some of things you will learn.

If this has caught your interest then: