GATE Project

This was a pioneering opportunity, the first example of international work experience placements for adults with severe to moderate learning difficulties and disabilities. Two groups of 10 participants attended three-week placements in Thuringia (aka the green lung of Germany) in November 2007 and February 2008. A full programme was designed in collaboration between Embrace Cooperation, their partners in Germany and Ealing, Hammersmith and West London College.

As part of the preparation phase participants were given basic German communication skills, which were practiced throughout. They were given information about what to expect when they arrived in Germany and what their roles and responsibilities would be.

The participants were based in a residential hostel, Bildings Centre Sudthuringen. Twin en-suite rooms on the fourth floor more than met our basic needs. We also had access to a kitchen, dining room; living room; IT suite in addition to the shared dining room facilities on the ground floor. The German staff were very helpful and supportive, hand delivering the phone when participants received calls from home. The other student residents went out of their way to accommodate us and took every opportunity to improve their spoken English. Work Placements were divided in two, providing all participants with experience with both providers. Suhler Werkstatten was situated in an industrial area and produced bike accessories; vacuum cleaners; torches and electrical parts. The other placement, Schleusinger was situated in a small village on the edge of the forest and produced wooden toys; rustic benches (for forest trails) and packaged spices (which participants saw for sale in the local shop, their experience came full circle!)

The daily timetable was intense and began with an early walk to the local vocational college for breakfast and minibuses to the two placement venues. Each group were supported by at least one member of staff, depending on the level of support required. The participants overcame the perceived language barriers and communicated with a few basic words in German/English and gestures and signing. They were able to develop positive working relationships with other workers and supervisors.

The participants were given free time at the end of the working day. Some took advantage of the time by resting, watching TV/videos, shopping or talking with resident students from the local vocational college.

Embrace’s holistic approach to developing the participants meant that every spare minute was catered for: Three personal development workshops (Visible Me; ‘When I’m at my best I....’ and ‘Life Dreams’) aimed at motivating participants into identifying and achieving their life goals were provided by Embrace staff members. On going basic German conversational opportunities were provided. Peter Muller, the head of the centre took personal responsibility for ensuring that we got to see the real Germany, with visits and talks. Our experiences of German culture were wide ranging, with visits to places of interest including; a theatre trip; bowling and dinner; Motorbike museum; Aquarium; Nordic walking; forest trail; Castle museum; BBQ; Film show; Disco and shopping trips. We also had the opportunity to visit a selection of provision available for people with LDD in Germany: BCs College; Rehabilitation Centre and Workshop provision.

Thanks to the Design Team at EHWLC we were set up with a Blog (new territory for all of us!) that we updated on a daily basis. This provided information for family and friends of participants in England and a permanent record we can all revisit. This was also accessed by Supported Learning students and college staff who were able to follow our progress throughout the placement.

As a result of the placement participants were able to demonstrate their abilities rather than focusing on their disabilities. Attitudes were changed in terms of the ability to achieve above and beyond expectations. As many of the participants had either never been away from home, or in some cases had never flown before, their personal achievements have been positive and life changing.

The GATE Project was so successful that it won a Beacon Award for outstanding contribution to Diversity. Staff were asked to represent the GATE Project in an Education and Business Partnership Roundtable event, Senior Management Training Day and Full Staff Development Day. As a result opportunities for further placement were made available to other Divisions within the college.

Judith Pepper-Cox