Meet Joanne. Joanne is a trainee health care assistant at the Hospital of St Cross in Rugby, Warwickshire. She works on a ward helping older people and people recovering after a stroke.
When she’s not learning on the job and supporting patients with their personal care, she spends the remainder of her 30-hour week studying and undergoing assessments that should see her successfully complete her apprenticeship within the next 15 months. She will become a qualified health care assistant. Her dream role.
Joanne says: “I think it’s a fantastic journey for me through the hospital. I love my work. It means a lot to me. It lifts my strengths and knowing where I could upskill myself.”
To enter the apprenticeship scheme in 2022, she attended an assessment day at University Hospital Coventry and Warwickshire (UHCW). Joanne, her Accelerate journey guide Katie and the hospital worked closely together to find the right ward to train on and to identify any reasonable adjustments that could support her in a successful placement.
Joanne, who has Down’s syndrome, originally joined the Accelerate employment support programme in 2019 with some experience as a community centre receptionist.
As is often the case for disabled people looking for sustainable paid employment, a permanent role didn’t transpire. In fact, less than six per cent of adults with a learning disability were in paid work in England in 2021*.
Then Covid-19 hit.
Accelerate participants, including Joanne, were forced to adapt quickly to virtual life – taking a crash course in Zoom meetings, learning to sign documents online and sharing coffee and skills through weekly catch ups from home. People with Down’s syndrome were included in a long list of Britons with conditions requiring them to shield behind closed doors.
Even during those difficult times, Joanne was sending positive messages of support and gratitude to our Grapevine team. She’s a Trustee of ours too.
Before she began her apprenticeship, she was also a St John’s Ambulance volunteer, a health advocate for disabled people and a public speaker on causes close to her heart – including at an Accelerate event in Coventry last May to connect employers with job vacancies to learning disabled people looking for work.
When lockdown restrictions eased, Joanne and Katie discussed her dream job in health care. Volunteering at UHCW gave her a foot in the door and over the course of one year, she became so popular she was asked to speak to prospective volunteers about her experiences.
While job ads for trainee healthcare assistants had previously come and gone, Joanne’s volunteering experience finally gave her the confidence to go for it the next time she and Katie saw a vacancy.
Now Joanne is working for a supportive organisation in her home city, in a job that matters, studying to become qualified in a role with further potential to grow.
Charlotte Brooks, Widening Participation Officer at UHCW, said: “Joanne has achieved so much in the last six months.
“She is dedicated, hardworking and we are more than confident that she will achieve her apprenticeship and any future goals she may have.”
Joanne would like to finish her training and go on to share information about disabled people’s health with professionals and the wider public to help raise awareness.
It has taken a while to get here but thanks to Joanne’s determination, Katie and UHCW (including her advocate Charlotte), she is writing the next chapter of her life.
She says: “If you want to do something you feel passionate about, you should go out there and do it. There’s people out there to help you. Accelerate has been the most fantastic project I have been on. I can’t thank you enough.”
Over six years, Accelerate delivered by Grapevine, helped 227 disabled people on their journey to find work in Coventry and Warwickshire. It ends on 31 March.
Taking lockdown restrictions during 2020 and 2021 into account (and its effect on interview processes and hiring rates), 65 per cent of those Accelerate participants were successfully supported into either paid work, volunteering or education.
The number of disabled participants reporting feeling confident about finding work increased by 70 per cent through the course of the programme.
Accelerate was a Building Better Opportunities Project, funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund. It is managed by Coventry and Warwickshire CDA in partnership with a range of local organisations.
Accelerate formed part of our #StrengtheningPeople action strand.
*Source: Mencap. 5.1 per cent of adults with a learning disability known to their local authority in England are in paid work (NHS Digital, 2021).
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