Trainers for Change: People with learning disabilities train staff

Who better to teach professionals about the needs of people with learning disabilities than the people themselves? For six years a group with learning disabilities based in Milton Keynes has done just that, providing training to professionals who work with this client group.

Trainers for Change (T4C) recently picked up a Skills for Care accolade for its innovative work in offering a specialised form of training to people who may be new to this area or are returning to it after taking time out. Set up by learning disability service provider MacIntyre, T4C has provided training to many of the charity’s staff but also people working for other organisations.

Help was provided by two senior MacIntyre learning support workers initially and more recently by a practice development adviser. But some members of the group have overcome their natural nervousness to travel independently to other organisations to deliver training.

Chris Gell, the practice development adviser, says: “The progression over time is important. They started off without much confidence, but they now want to go out there and do more stuff.”

The Skills for Care judges were impressed by the trainers’ confidence and liked the way the group members had developed their presentational skills, by recording themselves and reviewing their performances.

MacIntyre took the first step towards establishing the group in 2002 by purchasing the “training the trainer” course from the National Institute of Adult Continuing Education, and then advertising for students to take the course. Now there are eight trainers who meet one day a week to organise themselves and arrange the next training sessions they plan to offer.

To show they share a common set of aims they agreed a statement of their reasons for taking the course and being involved in the T4C project: “We did this course because we wanted to tell people what it is like to be us you need to learn what we want. We are the best people to tell you about us because we have the life experience of living as people with learning disabilities in the community.”

Gell explains the importance of the trainers being qualified: “Doing the course gave them real confidence in their own ability, and a structure to work from.”

The next step was for the new trainers to have a go at providing training, and learning support workers helped them through the first two sessions before Gell became involved, and the group became part of MacIntyre’s training department. It took more than three years before the group reached this stage.

A key moment came when the trainers began to realise there was a need for the service. Gell says: “They have something that people want to listen to.”

Of the eight trainers, there is only one woman – Rosie Joustra. She combines her work for T4C with working in a coffee shop two days every week. She explains how the group offers person-centred training based on student participation. “Within the training we do activities, starting with a music ‘ice-breaker’,” she says. “Some of the activities are based on role-plays to show people how we want to be treated.”

The role-plays include helping someone get up in the morning, choose a holiday or communicate without using words. During the course the trainers lead sessions in pairs with an emphasis on their own experiences, such as what is required to help a person with learning disabilities save for a holiday or hold down a job.

Joustra helps with a session where the students are challenged to come up with ideas on how to support a person who expresses a wish to develop in some way, such as taking part in sport.

Robin Gibbens, regional training officer for service provider Robinia, who took part in one of the T4C courses, said: “It was some of the most impressive training we have ever had. To see the people presenting their own material made it completely worthwhile. We are now looking to see if we can facilitate similar training ourselves.”

With such outstanding results the group are spurred on, and, according to Gell, are committed to T4C for the long term.


Chris Gell, a practice development adviser with MacIntyre, who has worked with the T4C group for more than two years, says the key things to remember if you want to set up a similar project are:

● Explain fully to potential trainers what will be expected of them before they start to be trained themselves.

● Be careful about paying individuals for the work they do because it could affect their benefits. T4C is given money as a group to cover their expenses and running costs.

● Play to the strengths of each trainer by giving them a task that exploits their skills. 

This article appeared in the 29 November issue under the headline “What it is like to be us”


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