Andrew is the joint Head of Development for the Thera Trust. He has promoted work and education across his career and has been championing employment rights for over 27 years’.
Thera’s vision is that people with a learning disability can be leaders in society that is why 40% of their paid directors have lived experience of learning disability, including Andrew. As part of his role he ensures that Thera remains focused on providing high quality support which meets people’s needs.
Andrew is also passionate about supporting people with a learning disability into employment and education. Andrew started with advocacy work including involvement in the Self Advocacy Movement, People First and Values into Action.
In 2007, Andrew became Service Quality Director for Thera North and in 2017, became co-Head of Development for the Thera Trust.
Andrew said: “I am very proud of becoming Head of Development for Thera Trust. In my eyes, this is an important position attained in spite of my learning disability and not because of it.”
In every role he has had, Andrew has found a broad range of creative ways to promote opportunities for Work and Education for people with a learning disability.
Andrew set up his own consultancy to help to educate organisations on how they can employ or involve people with a learning disability and has delivered presentations and seminars to a wide range of employers.
One of Andrew’s projects was called Dolphins’ Den. Inspired by Dragon’s Den, Dolphins’ Den is aimed at helping people with a learning disability start their own business or project.
Dolphins’ Den involved a series of workshops to help people explore their ideas, and help people think about everything they need to set up their business. People participating in the workshops are then given 1:1 mentoring from people who have already set up their own business or have expertise in a certain area, like HSBC Business Advisors; for six months.
Dolphins’ Den has helped people with a learning disability with vocational opportunities like making and selling jewellery, a dog-walking service and even a community choir!
Dolphins’ Den in Swindon and Wiltshire is part of the Building Bridges programme. Building Bridges is a partnership of organisations, led by Community First, that has come together to deliver the Building Better Opportunities Programme across Swindon and Wiltshire. The £3.9M local funding is part of the Building Better Opportunities (BBO) programme, which is jointly funded by the National Lottery, via the Big Lottery Fund, and the European Social Fund.
To date, Dolphins’ Den has been rolled out in Lancashire and Wiltshire but Andrew hopes to expand the programme to other locations soon.
Paths to jobs
As joint Head of Development for Thera, Andrew has launched the ‘Path to Jobs’ programme.
‘Path to Jobs’ aims to find more ways of supporting people with a learning disability into employment. This is still a fairly new initiative but already the project is establishing social enterprises and working with education services to create more opportunities for adults with learning disabilities.
Personally, for Andrew, work and education opportunities have enabled him to meet more people, develop friendships, earn money and thus be more financially dependent. Furthermore he’s felt enabled to make a positive difference and raise the profile of people with learning disabilities within the community.
At the heart, Andrew’s motivations are that he wants to show, and inspire, every person with a learning disability that they can feel the same way and have those opportunities, if they want them.
Over the past 27 years, Andrew has encountered many challenges to his goals and aspirations. Many of the ongoing challenges that Andrew has previously experienced and tries to address through his projects include, organisations not giving people with a learning disability employment opportunities and people with a learning disability doubting themselves and their abilities.
Low levels of employment for people with a learning disability show there is still a long way to go, but with people like Andrew working hard to make a difference, we can all be more optimistic about the opportunities that the future holds.
“It was an honour to be named as a winner. On hearing the news for the first time I was in shock, thinking this couldn’t happen to someone like me – but it has! I am truly thankful that my years of hard work at Thera in the different roles I have had, have made a real difference.”