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Lockdown learning: Facing the challenge together

Navigator developer, SamanthaMy name’s Samantha and my job focusses on social inclusion and supporting people with additional barriers into employment. Additional barriers may include a learning disability, autism, mental health, physical disabilities, and sensory impairments.

In 2016, in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council, Brandon Trust became involved with the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) project. I successfully applied for the role of navigator developer.

In this role, I have my own group of people I support, all with different barriers and challenges. My aim is to support my participants into confidence-building sessions, training, volunteer roles, further education, and ultimately paid employment.

There are 30 different organisations working with the GEM project, and they all have a different set of skills for supporting people with additional needs. I’ve been working within Brandon Trust since 2006 and before that, I worked in the learning disabilities sector of the NHS for 17 years.

Lockdown disappointment

Before lockdown came into effect, I’d been working with Albert – a young man with Asperger syndrome. Albert was due to start the Prince’s Trust Programme with charity, Young Gloucestershire. As well as taking part in the programme, Albert was also planning to do his English and maths Functional Skills qualifications so he could progress into college in September.

Albert was very disappointed that the Prince’s Trust Programme was postponed, particularly as he thought that meant he wouldn’t be able to do the Functional Skills either, which would hinder his chances of going to college.

Online learning opportunity

online learningAfter contacting Young Gloucestershire for advice, they very quickly set up an online learning account for Albert.

We met via WhatsApp video call four days a week, anything from three to four hours each day, split into chunks. We started at Entry Level 3 for both subjects and went from there. I followed Albert’s progress question-by-question, remaining on hand to explain any terminology he was unsure of, or to explain what the question meant and what type of answer it required. Albert’s first language is Romanian, and he has a barrier of Asperger’s, so my explanations needed to be well thought out.

Bring out the big guns

As the questions got harder, I found myself looking at Google and trying to teach myself, so I could teach Albert. When my understanding of the modules was not enough, it was time to bring out the big guns!

Luckily, at the time, I was also working with two young ladies – Kira and Cherry – who are both super clever having passed A levels and gained degrees in English and maths. I approached them and although anxious, they agreed to give it a go and help us via video learning. With their invaluable support, Albert managed to successfully complete Level 2 English and Level 2 maths.

The icing on the cake

GEM participant, Albert

Now that lockdown has eased, things are starting to run again, including the Prince’s Trust Programme, and Albert has just begun the Level 1 Prince’s Trust Award – a 12-week course.

I’m so proud of Albert and all the hard work he put in to reach another goal on his GEM journey, and I’m equally proud and hugely appreciative of Cherry and Kira for overcoming their anxieties to help make it a reality. Thank you, girls – you really are superstars!

The icing on the cake? I’ve just heard that Albert has been invited for an interview with the college to hopefully secure his place for the coming academic year.

What next?

This is just one example of how well the GEM project works; everyone facing challenges together, to help each other achieve.

I’ve been working on the GEM Project for four years now and I’ve had the pleasure of supporting over 25 people into education, training, volunteering, or employment. I’ve been part of their journey, supporting them to be the best version of themselves, helping to build their confidence and self-worth. The resilience and strength of people I have supported, is nothing short of incredible.

The GEM project will continue to run for another 14 months, and I look forward to being part of many more amazing success stories.

Samantha Mullaney
Project Leader

Inspired by this story?

If you’ve been inspired by Samantha’s blog, you can find out more about joining our team by visiting the jobs section of our website.