Supporting young people into learning and work opportunities
For some sixteen year olds about to leave school, the idea of going to college or straight into work can feel very overwhelming. Some young people need help with the transition from finishing their education to preparing for adult work and independent living.
The Blueberry Academy, a local social enterprise, bridges that gap by providing a specialist training and supported employment service for adults with additional needs.
Bec Horner, from Social Vision visited Andy Bucklee, Blueberry’s Director, at Fishergate’s Melbourne Centre, to find out more [All photos are courtesy of York-based All You Need is Love Photography]
BUILDING INDEPENDENCE AND CONFIDENCE
The young people at Blueberry are taught in a highly supportive environment with 30 staff assisting around 50 trainees. There is a whole host of training available to help build their confidence including living skills, job coaching, drama, IT and cooking.
I was impressed that workshops often take the attendees through a full journey of learning. Take the Gardening Club, for example: the trainees start by planting seeds and then care for the plants over their growing period. When they finally get to pick the vegetables, they take them straight into the kitchen and prepare a meal in the on-site kitchen, designed specifically to be like their own kitchen at home.
Learning the care taken in growing, the skill of preparing, and the joy of sharing meals with their friends are skills they can then use in their everyday life. And it comes with a deep feeling of satisfaction and self worth.
UNIQUE GIFTS MADE ONSITE AND SOLD DIRECTLY TO YOU
As well as operating out of the Melbourne Centre, The Blueberry Academy run a beautifully laid out arts and crafts shop, near the Shambles Market called ‘Blueberry at Silver Street’.
A visit to the store sees it filled with unique gifts including pieces of furniture, household goods, decorations and greetings cards.
Again, the items produced for the shop take the trainees on a full journey from creating a product to selling it to the public. They start by sanding down carefully chosen car boot sale purchases, move on to painting, decoupage and decoration – eventually upcycling them into attractive gifts. Trainees go on to sell the pieces at the shop gaining hands-on retail and customer service skills. And when a product is sold? The makers share the profit gained, which thrills everyone.
I like being able to earn a bit of money. It’s important to me’ Trainee
MEANINGFUL WORK EXPERIENCE AND EMPLOYMENT
Key to the success of the Blueberry Academy, and perhaps the feature that sets it aside from similar enterprises in the city, is the network of employers they have across York that offer trainees work placements.
The Red Goat Climbing Centre took Martin on a work experience placement. They were so impressed that he now works 4 days a week for them.
I’m really pleased I got a job at Red Goat .… from 9 to 11 Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday’ Martin, Blueberry Trainee
Trainee Scot, also caught the eye of his work experience host and now works 20 hours a week at Oscars and Biltmore in the centre of the city.
Rachael, a previous trainee at the Academy has seen her administrative skills lead to weekly volunteer work at West Offices with York Learning Hub, where she proudly has her own email address. She also volunteers on reception at the Melbourne Centre once a week:
It’s really helped me with my confidence and takes me away from my disability. I love being part of team.’ Rachael, Blueberry Trainee
CHANGING SOCIETY’S PERCEPTION
Talking further with Director, Andy Bucklee, he explained:
Far from being an inconvenience, we find that employers who take on one of our trainees see their whole perception of adults with learning difficulties change. They realise they are just like any other young person: willing, able and highly employable.
In some ways we are training businesses on how to work with young people and we find their gains and attitudinal shift is quite fantastic.
We are great believers that people of any ability can make a positive contribution to a work place and in their community.’
One business who would wholeheartedly agree is local chocolatiers, Choc Affair. Founder Linda Barrie added:
It’s been a real positive experience working with the Blueberry Academy, … the benefits we gain as a company when Jibin [Blueberry trainee] works are just wonderful. The atmosphere is entirely different, he brings such lightness into the premises.
The whole team love working alongside him, it is such a joy. It’s lovely to see his sense of achievement for a job well done and his confidence has definitely grown.
As a business you can be a bit hesitant that it is going to be a bit slow, or less productive [having a work experience person in], but we have found that absolutely to the contrary, it has enhanced our operations. We are more than happy to offer more days because it is such a positive experience for us.’
To continue the important service The Blueberry Academy offer, getting further work placements for the trainees is essential. These opportunities give the young people a truly positive and highly relevant experience in life.
Any organisation in or around York that can offer work experience should get in touch directly with Andy Bucklee at the contact details below. You never know, it might just be the best thing your company has ever done.
We are always looking for more organisations who can offer work experience placements, it is great knowing how much both parties benefit’ Andy Bucklee, Director at Blueberrry Accademy
Another way to support this inspiring organisation is to head down to the shop, have a look around and buy a gift or two. The profit from goods sold goes directly into the maker’s pocket and also brings confidence and a great feeling of achievement to the individuals involved.
Phone 01904 638885