What follows in this first post is the story of how we got here and what we are hoping to do.
Goodlife is a not for profit organisation based in Stourbridge and working in the Black Country. We do lots of things, all designed to help local people with disability labels and their families to take time to think, plan and organise their lives to make their futures more secure – of course – but also to be more dynamic, involved and connected to things going on in their locality. What is called in social care parlance making a contribution or inclusion.
One of the most basic and important ways of doing this for any of us is having a job and going to work. The benefits are well understood. A job gives us status, a role in life, a chance to be with others and of course it often means getting paid. But actually getting paid is not the most important aspect of it, its the social connections and feeling valued by others that is so vital to us all (and being paid does help us feel valued I know). We are after all social creatures first and as individuals cut off from others we are less than our complete selves. Having a job means having something to do with others that gives meaning and purpose to our lives.
According to the learning disability observatory for England (yes, one does exist) nationally 7.1% of people with a learning disability label were in paid work in 2012. In Wolverhampton in 2011 according to the local council the figure was 2.1%. There were no figures available for people in unpaid and voluntary work.
There has since been a plethora of projects and initiatives in Wolverhampton, mostly funded by local or national government with some recent major funding secured for employment in the Black Country generally from the Big Lottery and EU. The current figures are not available in Wolverhampton or at least not known to the author. Some very good work has been and continues to be done with more support and more employers getting involved.
But there is always more to do and different ways to do it. Goodlife is interested in working with local people and organisations to use their own resources to make things change. So we have teamed up with Mencap Wolverhampton, a largely parent led group affiliated to Royal Mencap but operating independently in the Wolverhampton area. In 2015 Royal Mencap put forward two major priorities for its local groups to focus its efforts on. Me Time and Employ Me.
Mencap Wolverhampton’s support for Me Time was focused on its Gateway Club, a really successful social group where around 75 members with a learning disability label meet each Friday night at a local Church hall. The group has all sorts of activities and outings and is brilliantly supported by volunteers, mostly parents. It has the character and slightly chaotic ambience of a youth club but for people between the ages of 21 and 75 and is without doubt one of the highlights of the week for those who go.
When thinking about Employ Me Mencap Wolverhampton was looking for a role. It decided to focus its efforts on helping those it already worked with and the obvious place to begin was the Gateway Club members. A survey was carried out in April that looked at what members thought about the Gateway Club activities and outings, what other social and organised activities they did, whether they were in paid or voluntary work and whether they were interested in work either paid or voluntary. The results showed that friendship and being with others was the main attraction of Gateway. Most people led pretty busy lives the rest of the week with lots of organised activities although most were activities especially for disabled people. More than half said they would like either paid or voluntary work.
Gateway members themselves reported the survey findings at the Mencap AGM in May when a commitment was made to think of ways to make improvements to both Gateway and to help members look for work. Mencap asked Goodlife to think about ways we could respond.
We at Goodlife put together a project plan that was agreed with Mencap in June to start in September and funded by Mencap out of its own resources.
Our plan is to act as brokers for each Gateway member. Being led by them and their families, basing our work on each person’s interests and abilities and linking them up with people who share their interests and are willing to help and support them find work. This is about creating new connections and new ways of working and depends on the willingness of local people and organisations to offer their help and support.
Please get in touch if you think you can help we want to hear from you.