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

WASWirral Autistic Society, UK – A specialist programme in Wirral run by the Wirral Autistic Society (WAS) that helps people with autism into work has just been shortlisted for a National Independent Specialist Care Award 2014.

The Step into Work Plus programme (SIW Plus) has been nominated under the Autism Spectrum Services Category. The programme started in January 2012 and to date has enrolled 48 students.

The programme helps people with Asperger Syndrome (AS) get ready for the world of work as well as helping employers recognise that they can be capable, dependable members of staff.

The programme is funded by a Big Lottery grant. Funding stipulates that each student should have one 12-week work placement.

To date six young people remain as volunteers and eleven have accepted permanent paid roles.

Programme Manager Beverley Breen told Autism Daily Newscast that the planning and operation of SIW Plus is her remit, but that in a small team of two she also undertakes all other elements of the programme including teaching, coaching, advising, counselling and befriending.

Beverley worked as a Social Worker for Liverpool SSD for 20 years and says that SIW Plus is the best job she has ever had.

Beverley told us:

“For me as Programme Manager one of the best outcomes has been the enduring friendships which have developed amongst our students. So many of our people have led solitary often “on-line” lives in their bedrooms but a real and positive benefit of SIW Plus has been their being able to meet others on their own terms and on neutral ground. The mutual support offered within our student teams is truly a joy to see.”

Beverley continues to say:

“One of the nicest things I hear our students say is “Are you coming for coffee on Saturday?” This refers to a regular Saturday meeting for coffee which is entirely student led and to which new team members are routinely invited by existing student.”

Beverley adds that friendship has been one of the most satisfying outcomes of the programme.

Chris Birss, at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, photo credit Tony Kenwright

Chris Birss, at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, photo credit Tony Kenwright

Chris Birss, 18, from Birkenhead, is one student who has taken part in SIW 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 told us:

“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:

Chris Birss, at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, photo credit Tony Kenwright

Chris Birss, at the Light Cinema, New Brighton, photo credit Tony Kenwright

“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.”

Steve Pape of Tranmere Rovers FC tells of how Mark has benefited from the project while volunteering with them.

“Mark is doing great. I am very happy about the placement. He comes in once a week to sort and wash the kit”

He tells of how Mark has grown in confidence.

“When he first came he was unable to use the washing machine but he now uses this with full confidence on his own. Mark doesn’t need to be told what to anymore, he knows what needs to be done and when.”

He also tells that at the beginning of the placement Mark was shy and didn’t say very much but that with support from SIW Plus and the team at Tranmere he now looks at people who he has known for some time and that they can even have a joke with him now about his one true love, Manchester United.

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.

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More about the Step into Work Plus programme can be found over on the Wirral Autistic Society website