Housing association hires interns with learning disabilities in first for Lewisham

The students with Phoenix Chief Executive Jim Ripley. From Left to Right: Israel Francis, Stephen Kilty, Jim Ripley, Kadijat Bangura. Pic: Phoenix.

A housing association in Lewisham has recruited a group of young people with learning disabilities for a nine-month work placement, designed to help them gain full-time employment.

Phoenix Community Housing is the first housing association in London and is the only organisation in Lewisham so far to become involved in the David Forbes Nixon charity Project (DFN) SEARCH transition programme, a partnership between a host business, education and professional adult supported employment.

The SEARCH programme originated in the US and has been running in the UK for 11 years. It aims to improve the employment prospects of young people with learning disabilities and autism spectrum conditions by providing real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent-living skills.

In 2017, the project helped 61% of young adults to find work, however employment is not guaranteed.

The three students, Israel Francis, Stephen Kilty and Kadijat Bangura will work in roles ranging from customer service to facilities, with the support of job coaches and instructors. The young people at Phoenix are all in their final year of college and have a goal of finding competitive employment.

New recruit Stephen Kilty said: “It’s been brilliant (so far). We do different stuff. I’m looking forward to doing different jobs”.

Interns are typically referred to the programme through their schools or colleges, a family member, or Social Worker and apply in the winter and spring in the year prior to entering the programme. The internships were offered following an interview/assessment at Phoenix.

Phoenix’s Chief Executive Jim Ripley said:“We’re all very excited to welcome these fantastic young people to Phoenix and to help them develop the skills and confidence to progress into work.

“The number of young adults with learning disabilities in employment is shockingly low. I’m pleased that we will be able to make our own contribution to help address that, and I really hope that some of our first six interns will be able to find jobs at Phoenix”.

The unpaid internships will run from September 2019 to June 2020, in line with the college year.

Funding for the project is being provided by Lewisham Council and is in partnership with Lewisham Southwark College and Toucan Employment.

When asked why the organisation decided to take part in the programme, Jonathan Lawn, Head of People Services and Communications told East London Lines:”We were approached by a consortium made up of Project SEARCH representatives, Lewisham Council, Lewisham College and Toucan employment as one of the largest not for profit employers in the borough. The project clearly resonated with our vision of building a better future for south Lewisham and commitment to supporting local people into employment”.

DFN Project SEARCH director and programme specialist Carmel McKeogh said:“The partnership with Phoenix Community Housing, Lewisham Council, Lewisham College and Toucan Employment is meeting this objective, teaching students competitive and transferable job skills, and the ability to achieve meaningful employment.

“Phoenix Community Housing is also experiencing the transformative benefits from engaging in our programme, creating a new, diverse workforce with skills that match labour needs in the community creating a fantastic talent pool for employers”.

Figures from 2010 suggest that around 20 people per 1000 in England have a learning disability. According to Lewisham’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment (JSNA) approximately 5400 adults in Lewisham have a learning disability.

Phoenix has joined Hackney Council in participating in the programme.


More information about Project SEARCH.

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