Celebrating the World of Work


We are now half-way through our four year, Big Lottery funded project When I Grow Up developing employment for young people with learning disabilities. The project brings together schools, families and local employers to improve the chances of young people moving into work after leaving school or college. The programme works with schools and colleges in Newbury, the London Borough of Redbridge and Kent.

Last week, our Newbury site held a celebration event to thank the local employers who have provided work experience and jobs to the pupils from Castle School, Newbury. Importantly, it was also an opportunity to invite other local employers who are not currently offering such placements, in the hope that they may offer such experiences in the future.

The event was attended by the local MP, Richard Benyon, who was very concerned that so few people go on to secure employment and was interested to find out how the students can be better supported to find work after leaving school.

Castle school employs a World of Work coordinator whose role is to find good quality work experience placements for the pupils in years nine and above by matching placements with the skills and interests of the young people.


They have developed a large pool of employers providing quality work experience placements in the area, ranging from hotels, shops, theatres, the library, children’s nurseries and schools.

The Newbury branch of Waitrose was one of the first to offer work experience placements and are now employing a former student who initially came and did work experience with them. His working hours have steadily increased over time and he now combines his work with a part time college course. In the college holidays he works more shifts and has been told there will be further opportunities when he leaves college.

One of the more recent placements within the programme is at a luxury hotel and spa. Again the manager was so impressed with the first pupil from the school to do work experience there, that the hotel are considering offering him part-time work whilst he is still at school too.

Most of us dipped our toes in the world of employment whilst we were at school or college, and it shouldn’t be any different to students with learning disabilities. The young person who works at Waitrose has now grown in confidence and has made a whole new circle of friends. A job is about more than money, it gives us a role and a purpose in life, as well as enhancing our social networks.

The current issue facing the Newbury site is the current lack of ongoing support for the young people to find paid employment when they leave full time education. Evidence suggests that supported employment and job coaching is the most effective way to do this. This is where we want to use our energies for the last half of the project, so it would be great if we could say in two years’ time we had made this happen and more ex-students were finding work.

I’m going to finish with the speech made by Catherine Knight, HR Manager at Waitrose in Newbury:

“In the UK we have many different counties with many different issues. I personally believe our community in Newbury is very fortunate. We are affluent, small in size, have lots of individual givers, lots of employers and the unemployment levels are really low compared with the rest of the UK. Most importantly, we have this very caring school with leaders who have a passion for each individual pupil.

Each organisation or employer here today operates in a unique way of working with their own set of circumstances – what suits one company may not suit another. We can surely between us all find something on a work experience basis for everyone in our community and show that we believe in our youth, no matter what their ability is, they all have a vision and a dream for the future.

My own vision is when I walk the high street in years to come these pupils who have come to Waitrose for work experience will be telling me about their jobs and how these work tasters help prepare them for work after leaving school.”