Wirral Autistic Society achieves national recognition for helping autistic people into work

Chris Birss (left) enjoying a coffee at the Light Cinema in New Brighton where he is employed, with the Wirral Autistic Society’s Step into Work placement officer Hema Chandrashekhar

Chris Birss (left) enjoying a coffee at the Light Cinema in New Brighton where he is employed, with the Wirral Autistic Society’s Step into Work placement officer Hema Chandrashekhar

A  specialist programme in Wirral that helps people with autism into work is proving so successful that it is receiving enquiries from across the UK and has just been shortlisted for a prestigious national Independent Specialist Care Award, 2014 (Autism Spectrum Services Category).

Step into Work Plus, from the Wirral Autistic Society, not only helps people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) get ready for the world of work – it also helps employers recognise that they can be capable, dependable members of staff.

The programme is funded by a Big Lottery grant and the funding stipulates that each student should have one 12-week work placement.  In fact, a quarter of the students have had two or three placements, and to date six remain as volunteers and eleven have accepted permanent paid roles.

Programme Manager Beverley Breen said, “We are delighted that news of our programme is spreading. We’ve had enquiries from as far afield as Kent, Northampton, Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire. Approximately 75 per cent of people with autism or AS would like to work, but are actually claiming state benefits, so it’s not surprising that people want to snap up the opportunity to gain work and work experience. We’ve had some great outcomes at Step into Work plus and our students are steady, reliable and trustworthy people who take such pride in what they do and, by working together, we aim to help employers to see their value too.”

Chris Birss, 18, from Birkenhead, is one student who has taken part in Step into Work Plus. Chris took up a work placement at the Light Cinema in New Brighton, where he did unpaid work as part of the front of house team and he has since been rewarded with a permanent part-time paid role.  He said, “ I have been thrilled to participate and have surprised myself with how much I have been able to achieve with support and advice from Step into Work plus. I really hope they win this award – it would be such a boost for all the other guys on the programme. ”

Jane Woodason, Education Manager at the Light Cinema, said, “We are pleased to be giving Chris – and his warm and pleasant personality – a chance to shine here and have been impressed by the way he has developed skills and adapted to his tasks.  We’ve watched his confidence grow and grow and he’s working really well with our customers and staff. He’s achieved a great deal and we are proud of him.”

Chris’s mother, Lynn Birss, added, “I’m so glad we got Chris a place on this programme. He has come on in leaps and bounds. I was worried about him finding work but he’s fitted in really well at the Light Cinema.  The whole team have helped him learn and now he works as part of that team, doing everything the others do.  Now I just want to tell other parents of children with autism about Step into Work plus and how it can help your young people and change your life.”

Other employers involved with the programme include Tranmere Rovers FC, Wirral Metropolitan Borough Council, Caldy Cleaning and the Odean Cinema in Bromborough.

Along with work placements, the full 24-week Step into Work Plus programme includes numerous workshops and field trips, where students get the chance to practice social skills. Students work together to develop new business ideas, play team games and work with IT programmes designed to aid concentration, memory and collaboration.  On ‘Smart Fridays’ they have the opportunity to dress for business.

Robin Bush, Chief Executive of the Wirral Autistic Society, said, “Since winning its Lottery grant in 2011, the Step into Work Plus team has achieved a tremendous amount and this award nomination is richly deserved. At the Wirral Autistic Society our aim is to be the gold standard service for people with autism. We don’t just want to be the best nationally – we want to be world class.”

The winners of the Independent Specialist Care Awards 2014 will be announced at an award ceremony in London on March 12.

Wirral Autistic Society: Founded in 1968, the society cares for and supports people with autism and social communication difficulties.  It offers specialist support services for families and children, residential care, respite care and supported living, amongst others. www.wirral.autistic.org

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