Our Northampton Workbridge centre supports people with mental illness, learning disabilities, autism and brain injuries to reach their full potential by providing a broad range of vocational opportunities. Each week over 250 service users from both the community at St Andrew's Healthcare access Workbridge, and attendees have the opportunity to build their confidence and make new friends in a supportive environment.
This week, Workbridge turns 40! Here, we share a little more about the history of Workbridge, and how you can support them in the future.
In the late 1970's, social worker Dorothy Davidson met local businessman Michael Jones to discuss creating a local centre that could provide a "bridge to work" for people recovering from mental illness.
Dorothy worked for St Andrew's Hospital. Michael was Chair of Northamptonshire MIND and ran a family owned jewellers in Northampton. Dorothy asked Michael for his help setting up a committee that could transform the Old Laundry site of St Andrew’s Hospital into the Workbridge Centre. The centre on Bedford Road would offer volunteering opportunities and work experience for people with mental illness and learning disabilities.
Workbridge formed on 10th June 1980. Michael Jones became the founding chairman and held the title for 18 years. Sadly, Michael passed away in 2017. He was a passionate supporter of Workbridge, visiting and contributing to events. Anne Jones, Michael’s wife, continues to support Workbridge in our endeavours to this day.
Workbridge set out to create working departments that would give people the skills they need to seek work in the community. The first workshop, “contract packaging” – worked as a fulfilment service for small assembly items.Working with local employers, Workbridge would take on packaging work that their service users could fulfil and in turn, local employers provided work experience to Workbridge service users in their place of work.
With the support of St Andrew’s Hospital, in 1993, Workbridge expanded their departments into Office Skills, a workshop where their service users manage the charity’s administration, and greet visiting guests on reception; and creative workshops including ceramics, catering and horticulture.
In the late 90’s and 00s respectively, Workbridge set up a garden centre and coffee shop. Both are popular today with Northampton’s residents. The garden centre and plant nursery is well known for great gardening advice, well cared for plants and their coffee shop (twice crowned Northampton Food & Drinks Awards winners) which bakes excellent cake. Each retail outlets supports patients and service users with work experience, aiming to boost people's confidence as part of their recovery journey.
Merging with St Andrew's Healthcare
In 2009, Workbridge merged with St Andrew’s Healthcare. We now support over 250 people each week to learn life and work skills. We provide over 16 different workshops including an award winning café and garden centre, canvas printshop, ceramics and woodwork studios, plus many more.
At the heart of Workbridge is the desire to support people to be the best they can be, in a setting that values and includes every person in their care. The covid-19 measures have had an impact on Workbridge, like all charities, however we hope to be back up and running fully to support our service users as soon as possible.
Keep up to date via the Workbridge website: www.workbridge.org.uk