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DFN Project SEARCH interns at Gulliver’s Valley celebrate graduation

DFN Project SEARCH, a transition to employment programme for young people with learning disabilities and autism, is working with Gulliver’s Valley Theme Park to transform the employment prospects of young people with learning disabilities in the local area.

Interns and staff from the programme celebrated at the theme park’s graduation ceremony on November 2nd, after all six interns successfully completed the programme, gaining 800 hours of skills acquisition across the academic year.

Compared to the general population, young people with a learning disability are significantly less likely to be in full time paid employment with nationally only 5.9% of people with special educational needs and disabilities gaining permanent paid employment in the UK.

Four students from the Gulliver’s DFN Project SEARCH programme have now secured full-time paid employment at the theme park and will be working in various roles within the theme park rides, retail, park care and catering. Two students are harnessing the skills they have learned during the programme to explore positions with businesses in the local area.

The Gulliver’s Valley DFN Project SEARCH programme is delivered in partnership with Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, Rotherham Opportunities College, Newman Special Educational Needs school and Gulliver’s Valley as the host business.

The programme first began mid pandemic in September 2020, providing interns with a one-year transition to work programme in their final year of school or college.

The programme offers total workplace immersion, facilitates a seamless combination of employability skills instruction, career exploration and hands-on training through a series of job rotations within the host business.

DFN Project SEARCH has ambitions to get 10,000 young adults with learning difficulties and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade and 20,000 in the next 15 years.

Claire Cookson, DFN Project SEARCH CEO, said: "A huge congratulations to our six inspiring interns graduating this year from Gulliver’s Valley DFN Project SEARCH. The past 12 months have been truly transformational as we have responded to the pandemic, and we are so proud of our interns and programme team who have undoubtedly risen to the challenge.

"It’s so encouraging to see our Gulliver’s programme thrive despite a challenging year and to continue to support young people with learning disabilities and autism to find meaningful jobs during these extraordinary times.”

Julie Dalton, managing director of Gulliver’s Theme Park Resorts, said: "We are immensely proud of our interns who have worked incredibly hard over the last year and it is an honour to see them graduate with flying colours. They have all been an absolute credit not only to themselves but also to Gulliver’s Valley making a valuable contribution to our business and for four of them to continue on their Gulliver’s journey in full-time paid work is really exciting. Well done to them all!”

Julie Day, Head of Service – SEND at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, said: "The strong working relationship between Project Search, Newman School and Gulliver’s Valley has resulted in not only the success of the implementation of the project as a whole but in the success of each individual young person where key milestones and achievements have been recognised. By exploring the appropriate opportunities within Gulliver’s environment each of them has been given the chance to realise their skills and interests. To observe such success, delight and pride is an absolute privilege. This initiative should be classed as an example of good practice and it is hoped that other businesses and employers understand just how much those with additional needs can bring to the world of work. Not only does it give those involved in the internships the opportunity to find out just what they can do to be a valued member of society, it allows those they work with and the community they serve to recognise and accept the benefits that an inclusive and diverse workplace brings. Congratulations to all.”

Spokesperson from Rotherham Opportunities College said: "We are very proud of the six interns who graduated this year. Their hard work, commitment and dedication is a testament to the value they place on gaining meaningful employment. Gulliver’s provides a wonderful opportunity for the young people to gain confidence and learn transferable skills in a variety of roles. The success of the interns is down to collaborative work between many partners. Thank you to you all and many congratulations to the six interns".

DFN Project SEARCH’s locally managed programmes are a proven way of helping young people with learning disabilities get long term careers as well as helping businesses and organisations get a more inclusive workforce.

The charity has delivered strong job outcomes for its interns during the Pandemic. New data for the class of 2019-20 shows that 209 interns secured employment during the national lockdown. 25% of interns were from a BAME background, nearly twice as many as the UK population of 13%.

Today DFN Project SEARCH has 76 internationally recognised programmes across the UK, Ireland and Iberia, and has supported over 1600 interns into work, nearly 1400 of which meet Project SEARCH’s success criteria. The criteria means that the work is over 16 hours per week, is non-seasonal, is paid the prevailing wage for the role and that the work is in an integrated setting.

On average 60 per cent of graduates obtain full-time paid employment meeting these criteria, which is well beyond national statistics of 5.9 per cent. Yet, an additional 10 per cent find some type of paid employment, meaning the lives of 70 per cent of graduates are changed for the better.