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Nickel Support: Putting The Needs Of Clients First

For every person with a learning disability to have a purposeful and fulfilled life...

Not an uncommon vision of support workers, but one that at Nickel Support is a tangible reality for many of the people using the unique service.

Set up in 2012 by Elena Nicola and Nick Walsh after they had become disillusioned by the learning disability sector, Nickel Support set out to offer support in a much more dynamic way: to put the needs of the clients first.

They felt that people with learning disabilities deserved more and were being short-­changed by some of the more traditional services.

“It seemed that many services were just trying to get numbers through the door, with little regard for the needs of the very people they were meant to be supporting,” explained Nick.

“Our vision is to change the way learning disability services are run forever, offering respect and the chance for people with learning disabilities to shine.”

With that in mind the pair put together a business plan, quit their jobs, invested their own money and in the early days went without wages to set up a community interest company, supporting adults with learning disabilities to develop and run their own social enterprises.

Fast forward 10 years and Nickel Support employs 17 staff and five trainees in paid employment. Since last year it has been based in high profile premises in Carshalton, South London, that were adapted and refurbished with funding from The James Trust.

The Richard James Hub is set over four floors and is fully wheelchair accessible. It has been finished to a high specification with a modern spacious feel, making it a wonderful place for the trainees to work.

A newly fitted kitchen on the top floor allows Nickel Support to spend more time developing products for its food enterprises, whilst trainees involved in upcycling furniture are enjoying a new light and spacious workshop on the first floor.

To one side of the hub is the upcycling shop and to the other a studio/café space. “One of our core goals is to increase paid employment opportunities for adults with learning difficulties,” said Nick.

“With less than 6% of people with learning difficulties in paid employment, something needs to be dramatically altered to improve the low statistic.

“We have therefore developed various enterprises to harness the skills and qualities of the trainees. This has allowed us to develop a range of products that we can sell to the public. Any profits that are generated from our Interestingly Different initiatives can then be used to offer paid employment.”

An enterprise selling up-cycled furniture alongside vintage and antique pieces from a shop and various online outlets. Trainees can work there up to four times per week, assisting with all aspects of the day to day running of the initiative.

A range of delicious jams and relishes made by the trainees, with the expert guidance of a qualified chef, are available to buy direct from Nickel Support or several local and online retailers. The Nickel Support pop­up café opens every Friday, serving fresh coffee, cakes and treats baked by the trainees.

It is supported by people from the local area who get to learn and understand what the trainees are capable of.

“The success of these enterprises proves that with the right support, training and drive how amazing people with a learning disability can truly be,” said Nick.

“Our whole aim is to give them the tools and confident social skills to take ownership of the enterprises.

“So, the sessions we deliver throughout the week have a real purpose to them. They not only contribute to the overall growth of the trainees, but they are also integral to the development of the enterprises.”

Sessions run for two hours during the morning or afternoon, five days a week, and include upcycling, product development, food enterprises, retail work, online sales, the café, yoga, dance, exercise and cookery. But there’s more to it than that at Nickel Support.

“Over the years we have had contact with many people with learning disabilities and their parents or carers and we believe that we can put what is most important to them into three distinct areas – health, relationships and employment ­ that we refer to as Purpose Pods,” explained Nick.

“These three areas are integral to what we are aiming to achieve. We believe that growth in these areas is the key to people with disabilities having a more fulfilled life.

“So, we are always wanting to make sure we are progressing our trainees and we do that in various ways to ensure that we are setting appropriate goals and measuring them effectively.

“However, it is our impact measurement tool ‘Upshot’ that really allows us the opportunity make tangible change. Focussing on their Purpose Pod, it allows us to track trainees’ growth when they are with us.

“Staff are able to track and adapt goals in real time, with the ability to offer detailed reports of every trainee as and when needed, for example in annual reviews.”

With 70 regular clients and a growing waiting list for sessions, Nickel Support has committed to opening a second hub in Cheam on the Surrey and London border this year.

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