A Little Gate to a Bigger Future

Wed, Sep 27th 2023 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Mary Soul, the head of finance and fundraising at Little Gate Supported Employment, spoke about how they support people with learning disabilities and autism into paid work.


The club’s guest speaker on Wednesday 27th September was Mary Soul, the head of finance and fundraising at Little Gate Supported Employment, a charity which is based near Beckley in East Sussex and supports people in Hastings and Rother

Little Gate Supported Employment was founded in 2013 by Claire Cordell, who is a mother of three children, including Evie, who was born with a learning disability. Claire soon realised that there were no opportunities for Evie after she left school. Claire wanted to change that.  She founded Little Gate Supported Employment to ensure that adults with learning disabilities can have the same aspirations as neurotypical people.  The key to that is employment – Little Gate believe that learning-disabled adults deserve a chance of having a paid job just like everyone else. This holds the key to making their lives as fulfilled and independent as possible.

Little Gate supports people with learning disabilities and autism into paid work. They identify the areas where support is needed. Then they teach new skills while working on the farm doing activities like animal care, woodland management, catering, horticulture, office work or housekeeping. The charity offers work training, work experience, and supported apprenticeships.  All of the trainees are working towards supported employment, that is paid employment in a local workplace where they are supported by a trained job coach.

With the right support, people with learning disabilities and autism can be happy and valued employees in any industry. Supported Employment is the process of helping someone find work, learn the job to a high standard and ensuring their continued success in that role. The Supported Employment model has been successfully used for decades, creating a partnership between businesses and the supported employees with long term benefits for both parties.

The Supported Work Training programme is based on the farm site in Beckley, East Sussex. They offer a variety of different activity groups that allow adults with autism and learning disabilities to learn specific tasks as well as improving their work skills, such as their communication, teamwork and confidence. This allows the trainees to become more independent and build up their skillset leading up to getting a paid job. The charity also runs two social enterprises; with cut flowers and charcoal. These allow the trainees to gain workplace specific goals such as customer service skills, using IT and maintaining stock.

Apprenticeships are a real job that allow the trainee to “Earn while they learn” and work towards a qualification relevant to their specific job role, The supported apprenticeship programme is designed specifically for young people with learning disabilities and or autism. Empowering learning and training whilst developing practical hands-on paid work experience, all resulting in gaining a recognised qualification that could lead to permanent paid employment and a career of possibilities. The charity works with employers across East Sussex and Kent to match apprentices with an appropriate apprenticeship. Working closely with specialist education providers, employers and the apprentices themselves, they ensure that all apprenticeships are equally rewarding for all parties.

The charity also organises the Little Gate Rangers club for children aged 8 to 18 which gives children a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn, while having great fun and making friends and it also provides valuable respite time for families. Support for families continues once their children have reached adulthood, through a Parent Forum.

Little Gate takes a holistic approach to learning, wanting to assist the trainees in every area that they may need support. This can include helping with benefits and housing, supporting their overall wellbeing and signposting to other services. Whether it be practicing self-care or ordering a drink in a café, they want to build up the trainees to live and support themselves independently in every area of their life, to ensure their success in their paid roles. The training process itself has great benefits to the physical and mental wellbeing of the trainees, and can spark lifelong friendships.

Since it started, Little Gate now has placed 135 adults in long-term, 6 months and more, paid employment, and supported over 200 children in the Young Rangers club. They currently have 83 people on the work training programme at the farm although only 22 can attend the farm on any one day.

Rotarian Colin Goldsack who brought his granddaughter, Miffy, a supported employment trainee at Little Gate, Introduced Mary and gave a vote of thanks mentioning how Miffy had gained from her interaction with the charity.

For more information about Little Gate see the website www.littlegate.org.uk

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