For people with learning disabilities gap-year globetrotting is impossible. But charity Langdon Community is putting this right
Social care professionals and service users seldom have the chance to live and work overseas. But England-based Jewish learning disabilities charity Langdon Community hopes to inspire service providers to help their staff and service users globetrot.
Through its international exchange programme, Langdon Community identities, funds and supports staff and clients to work overseas in comparable organisations. It also welcomes professionals and people with learning disabilities from abroad to its London and Manchester facilities and has links with similar organisations in the US, Canada and Israel.
Opportunity of a lifetime
Initially created in 2006 the programme ran a pilot in 2008 when 24-year-old Ben Golden (pictured right), who lives in Langdon supported housing in north London, experienced the opportunity of a lifetime and went to America in September.
Langdon Community arranged for him to spend three weeks living and working on a voluntary basis for Massachusetts-based learning disabilities organisation Justice Resource Institute (JRI).
Golden and support worker Phil Dalton were accompanied by Langdon Community’s chief executive Robert Mutch and operations director Phillip Vaughan for the first few days to ensure they settled in. “We wanted people who would be a good ambassador for our organisation which Ben is, and we knew his family was very supportive of the trip,” Vaughan says.
Golden’s mother, Janice, says her son had often commented on his cousins – who do not have special needs – being able to go abroad during their gap years and was excited by Langdon’s suggestion. She can see how he has benefited from his trip: “Ben is much more confident about talking to people he doesn’t know and standing up for himself.”
Golden worked as a painter and decorator in some of JRI’s properties in the Boston area. His duties where not too dissimilar to the work he does as a part-time caretaker’s assistant in his local synagogue. He also socialised with JRI’s staff and service users, and attended a Chicago Bulls baseball match.
Golden says the trip changed how he thinks about himself. “I never thought I would go and work in America. It was an adventure. It gave me something I’ll always remember. I would go back I’d like to go to New York!”
One thing he particularly liked about working at JRI was its day centre, where people of different abilities all mixed together. He was also impressed by the number of vehicles JRI had to transport service users and wishes Langdon had more.
On his final day, JRI staff and day centre users threw him a surprise leaving party. “They had a chocolate cake saying ‘Good luck Ben’ and they gave Phil and me presents. I got a baseball cap. It proved how much they liked me.”
Langdon Community was inspired to start the exchange programme because people with learning disabilities do not get to enjoy the traditional gap year many young people take after leaving college or university, says Mutch. As for frontline social care professionals, they rarely have the chance to work abroad or take a sabbatical as part of their career development, he adds.
The exchange programme has specific objectives and benefits for the individuals taking part, says Mutch, as well as for Langdon as a charity. “Our exchange programme aims to promote good practice in service delivery, promote equality of opportunity for people with learning disabilities and provide opportunities for people that would ordinarily be out of their reach.”
He adds that going overseas “catches people’s imagination” because they can see how other social care organisations are structured and provide services.
Mutch wants more practitioners and clients to take part in the exchange programme in future. Langdon is currently developing a relationship between US retailer Wal-Mart and its British supermarket subsidiary Asda so service users can work in more mainstream organisations.
Mutch says: “We want to help empower service users to make decisions that are aspirational because too often their goals are set not to what they want to achieve but to what is already available for them.”
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Published in Community Care 19/03/09 under heading ‘Filling that Gap’