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​Stepping Up Project

stepping up projectENABLE Scotland’s Stepping Up project is a pioneering employment programme aimed at young people aged 14-19 who have a learning disability. Established in 2009, the project supports its participants in planning for the future, developing employability skills and accessing employment, training, apprenticeships or further education. 

Young people who take part in the project have an opportunity to investigate the world of work and undertake a range of activities, in both one to one and group settings, to develop the skills and confidence they need to succeed. These include person-centred planning, independent travel training, job-searching and work experience. The project also offers after-care support to those who have found employment to ensure that it is sustainable. 

Stepping Up transition co-ordinator Kevin Morrison works in the Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire areas and explains the importance of supporting young people to ‘step up’ from school into the next stage of their lives. 

“Many kids with learning disabilities have a will to work and want their lives to go in a particular direction, but they may not always be equipped with all the skills they need,” explained Kevin.

“ENABLE has a strong focus on personalisation and Stepping Up is a great example of that. By working regularly and closely with young people, we can really establish what each individual wants, then we can start to steer them towards it, facilitate it and ultimately, help them achieve their goals.” 

Kevin works specifically with those on the autism spectrum. Many of the young people struggle socially, therefore social skills like communication, motivation and confidence are the focal point of his work. During sessions, the young people are encouraged to identify and measure the skills that they have and they are also supported in developing their skills with money, time-keeping and travel.

Eighteen-year-old Andrew Perratt joined the project in 2011 and has now progressed to a Steps to Work course at college. 

“When I first joined Stepping Up I found it difficult to figure out what was out there or how to go about getting into things, but now I’ve developed a better idea of what is available to me,” said Andrew.

“I’ve become much more confident about discussing the things I like or want because I feel like my opinion really matters. I’ve also been doing a lot of work on independent travel and I’m making progress with that too. 

“I’ve been learning all the local routes and looking at different forms of travel so I think I will be ready to travel to college on my own soon. My course covers lots of different things such as art, cooking, hospitality and childcare, so I’m gaining lots of new skills and hopefully I will develop a good idea of what I really want to do in the future.”

Brandon Hill joined Stepping Up in 2012 and the 17-year-old feels the support he received has been so invaluable, that he already has aspirations to ‘give something back’.

“I’m also at college doing the Steps to Work course and I’m able to get there on my own because of all the support I have had with independent travel,” said Brandon.

“That’s been a big thing for me because I wasn’t able to do that before I came here, but Kevin took me out a few times. He showed me what to do and where to go and it made me much more confident and prepared.

“If I hadn’t learned to do that, I might not have been able to go to college because I wouldn’t have had anyone who could take me there and come back for me every day. Now I take another boy with me when I travel to show him how to do it. I’ve also been back into the school to help the teachers by mentoring new kids coming onto the project because I think it’s so important.”

In his willingness to help others, Brandon is engaging in the kind of ‘active citizenship’ which is promoted by Stepping Up and the young people are encouraged to become involved in community impact projects to develop their interpersonal skills.

Projects of the past have included activities such as gardening and painting within their local communities, but following discussions with the young people of Renfrewshire and West Dunbartonshire in summer 2013, Kevin explains that an innovative idea was developed. 

“The young people are really passionate about and really immerse themselves in computer games. A huge percentage of them say they would be interested in a career in gaming, but when we researched the industry, we discovered that it’s very hard to get work experience in this area.

“So that inspired us to switch our focus from the local community, to the online community. We wanted to give them an opportunity to work on something which would give them a better idea of designing games, but at the same time, could be used as an effective tool to help others develop the skills they need to take their first steps towards employment.” 

The team set about making their idea a reality, beginning with the participants being split into groups of three to work on their suggestions for the game. Once an idea had been established, they then came together to collaborate on the finer points and the ‘Job Adventure Game’ was born. 

The aim of the game is to select an appropriately dressed character and navigate your way around a virtual town in order to attend a job interview within a reasonable length of time. With a plan for the game in hand, the team then had to establish how they would secure funding for their project, something which Kevin’s fellow transition co-ordinator Fiona Cunningham believes further improved the young people’s interpersonal skills. 

Said Fiona: “The main source of funding came from the ‘Inspire Me’ project which collaborates with our sister charity, Mencap. To access that funding, the young people had to present to a judging panel and outline their ideas. They were initially reluctant as it was a big challenge, but they all took part and that really enhanced their communication and presentation skills.

“Kevin and I also got involved with fundraising by holding a bake sale and a local gig. By the end of all that, we had a good idea, a lot of enthusiasm and a bit of money. All we needed next was a games expert.”

The team recruited Game Programming student Martin Grant who worked closely with the young people to answer questions, provide technical support and offer design advice. With his assistance, the young people effectively developed and produced the game within a two to three week period. 

The Job Adventure Game can now be accessed at Enable Scotland’s Make the Move website and Kevin concludes that the project was a great success. 

“It’s a game for young people, by young people. The team didn’t just create something which is hugely beneficial to others making the transition from education into work - they also improved their own social, communication, presentation and teamwork skills.

“Now they’re talking about ways in which they can enhance and develop the game by adding in things like maps with directions and extra buildings. They got so much out of the experience that they want to keep going.”

Kevin says that it is extremely rewarding to see the young people so inspired and enthused and that it is a result of the sense of pride they take from knowing they have achieved something worthwhile.

“It’s amazing to see the kids we support reach their goals. If you take Andrew for example - he used to be so nervous that he wouldn’t stand up and talk in front of people, but now he’s a competent and articulate speaker. Brandon struggled a lot with travel, but now he keeps his concentration and focus on it and his progress has been fantastic.

“Both boys have become much more confident. They haven’t just benefitted from the knowledge we’ve tried to give them – they’ve grown as people too.”

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