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Posted on Apr 12 2023 by Fiona Bailey

A community service user who accesses vocational learning sessions at Workbridge Education has described how a Northampton volunteering service has given his day “focus and meaning”.

John has been gaining much-needed work experience at Workbridge, which is the public-facing part of the mental health charity St Andrew’s Healthcare.

But, now he has become the site’s very first ‘learner volunteer’ which is part of a new programme that has been introduced to provide Workbridge learners with the same opportunities as the onsite patients.

Now, community-based learners can sign up to volunteer and help in Workbridge site’s garden centre, café, charity shop and design and print studio as well as continuing to attend sessions in the education hub.

The 36-year-old said: “Since coming to Workbridge I have learnt how to plant flowers, label pots, deal with customers and help stock take. During the festive season I helped put the Christmas trees in the nets for people and I really love talking to the customers and getting to know them.

“I really like coming here because it gets me out of the house and I get to meet new people. It’s been a real learning curve coming here and it helps give me a bit of focus and meaning.”

John, who lives locally, normally attends the Workbridge Education service three times a week where he takes full advantage of the vocational learning sessions that are available there.

Helen Morgan, who is John’s Vocational Lead at Workbridge, said: “John has become a real familiar face at Workbridge and we love having him around volunteering. He’s opted to work in the garden centre and this role is allowing him to take ownership over it.

“John loves chatting to people and knows he can be easily distracted, but knowing he has a job to complete keeps John focussed on what he’s doing. He’s very capable and we’re thrilled that we’ve been able to offer volunteering opportunities to our Workbridge learners.”

Workbridge was set up to provide vocational pathways for people with mental illness, learning difficulties, ASD or brain injuries. It gives people with opportunities to gain independent living skills and employability skills such as teamwork and problem-solving.

They can gain work experience in a genuine work environment and this all helps prepare them for future volunteering or employment. Workbridge Educations’ aim is to help people realise their potential and give them a sense of belonging in their communities.

Learners are mentored by skilled staff across a variety of work activities to encourage independence, employability and vocational skills; building their confidence, self-esteem and resilience in a supportive environment.

As they progress, the team helps them when they are looking for independent employment, volunteering opportunities or interview practise

Nest steps for the team is to support employers, ensuring they have the skills and strategies to be ‘Workbridge Ready’ and be a bridge to work for learners as part of an ongoing transitions process to help people move forwards and build enriched lives.