Everything was a challenge for Ben, his mum Dawn and the rest of his family until Grapevine became involved in his life. Struggling with undiagnosed autism he’d hit bottom in year 7 and 8 at school. “I gave up Scouts, everything and wouldn’t leave my room,” he says.
He’d been through five mainstream schools and had twice walked out of the pupil referral unit he’d been referred to. Dawn had given up her job to try and support Ben. She says:
“We were trying to put him into a box that people had told us that he had got to fit into. But we knew in our hearts of hearts that he would never fit into that box.
You don’t have time to look at something alternative because of the hours that we’re all working. The only time we went really went into the school it was always about crisis management.
And it was always: Ben has been sent home, can you come and pick him up? Ben’s flipped the table. Ben swore at a teacher. Ben has been sent out of classroom, walked round the classroom.”
Then they ended up at a Grapevine event – and everything began to change.
“Being in Drapers with Mel on that afternoon felt like we were breathing again. And we could see – we were living again, really,” says Dawn.
Through Grapevine Ben was introduced to Imagineers who work with young people on creative engineering projects. Currently he’s helping to build a rail track. “I really like them, I’m good as gold and I don’t swear,” he says. He’s made friends and has a clear view of what he wants to be – an engineer.
He’s on track to get five GCSEs this summer and he’s involved in event management at Grapevine – helping to run their hugely successful Wave Rave, a fun swimming event for families which attracts more than 100 people aged between six months and 70 years old.
He’s also involved in Grapevine’s Slow Roll Project – regular community cycle rides at low speeds so no one gets dropped off the back, with a sound system so the group can ride to music. Last year the group cycled a total of 1,200 miles.
“It’s CV worthy,” says Ben about his Grapevine activities. “My school record is pretty dire. All of that other stuff says “that was him.” But look at me now. Meet me. I’m not that piece of rubbish.
Just ask Grapevine if you want to know something. Everything links together. My English teacher knows someone at Imagineer, my maths tutor was recommended by Andrew through Grapevine.”
“Whatever route he goes down post 16 we know we’ll get through it,” says Dawn, who’s now back at work. And Ben points out that that will be just the first stage of education for him.
Grapevine Chief Executive, Clare Wightman says Ben’s story is typical of the people they support:
“We take our support to youngsters and their families – those who really are just on the edge of coping.
Ben is an example of someone we’ve already helped. His circumstances were different to others but what he needed was much the same – a plan and people around him willing to help.”