Sweeping all before them

Robert Hill, director of Supercare and Green & Clean, a
training and employment organisation for people with learning
difficulties, is clearly proud of his organisation’s work. “Our
people are out working in the community and for the community –
that is the reality and that is what is making a difference,” he

It is a difference that led to the project walking away from last
year’s Community Care Awards as winners in the people with
learning difficulties category.

The west London-based organisation, which is part of Ealing Mencap,
set out to tackle the problems faced by people with learning
difficulties gaining access to the world of training and work.

It grew out of discussions three years ago between Ealing Mencap
and Age Concern over the fact that a lot of older people in the
area were having problems finding help with cleaning and gardening,
while people with learning difficulties were faced with little or
no chance of working or benefiting from training.

Money was obtained from the European Social Fund and the UK’s
Community Fund to establish a training programme for people with
learning difficulties, and the Supercare project was born.

“We were able to win a number of cleaning, gardening and ground
maintenance contracts with Ealing Council, and more were secured
from local organisations that were used to offer in-house training
and work experience,” says Hill.

The project also wanted to offer trainees the chance to gain a
qualification, and initially hoped to offer a National Vocational
Qualification level 1 in cleaning and support services. But finding
places on existing courses proved difficult as the training
providers were not geared to dealing with this client group.

Supercare realised that the majority of its staff already had NVQ
assessors qualifications, and two had been awarded the NVQ internal
verifier qualification. “We realised we were in a position to do
our own NVQs,” says Hill.

It is now an approved NVQ centre carrying out its own training and
assessment suited to the needs of its client group. Ten trainees
have just been awarded their NVQ level one cleaning and support
services certificates, and another 10 are being signed up to do the

The second component to the project is Green & Clean. Hill says
a decision was taken to make a clear distinction between training
undertaken by Supercare and the contract work, which was hived off
into a separate project called Green & Clean. This is an
emerging social firm offering gardening, grounds maintenance and
comprehensive contract cleaning services.

Green & Clean employs one full-time and five part-time staff
and complements the work of Supercare, providing the project with a
sympathetic in-house employer that offers worthwhile training and
work experience as well as giving trainees the chance of a paid
job. Regular customers include sheltered housing organisations,
community centres, housing associations and voluntary

Everyone involved in the project benefits. Trainees get structured
work experience and training with the prospect of employment with
Green & Clean or other local employers happy to take on
experienced and qualified staff. Green & Clean’s customers get
an excellent job done by an organisation that creates local
employment for people who often find it difficult to find a way in
to training and employment.

It also gives people with learning difficulties the opportunity to
demonstrate the valuable contribution they can make to the local
community given the opportunity, and helps trainees develop their
social skills and become more confident in how they interact with

Hill says: “The interesting thing we have noticed since we have
been more focused commercially is that we have begun to get people
coming back to us to say that things haven’t been done quite as
they would like – nothing major, but people now feel OK to tell us.
There is no longer the attitude that ‘Oh, it’s just a bunch of
people with learning difficulties so we can’t expect too much of

There are 32 trainees on the books, and Hill is hopeful that those
who progress to working for Green & Clean on a part-time basis
should, after a period of time, be in a position to move to
full-time employment.

He is keen to look to the future, pointing out that there is a huge
need for the service. “We have just taken on a development worker
whose job it will be to engage with local employers to identify the
skills they require and match them with our trainees, and we are
recruiting two part-time training and development workers,” he
says. “If you look at the Valuing People white paper we are
delivering what it wants.”

However, he is concerned about funding for the future. The project
is currently funded by joint commissioning money from Ealing
Council, which runs out at the end of April, and European Social
Fund money which finishes next June.

“The sad thing is that we have proved to be successful and we are
very popular, but come next June we could be without funding. It
makes planning for the future very difficult – for example
recruiting and retaining staff – and it means that trainees are
unsure about the future of the project,” Hill says. “We have a
package here that is completely transferable, but we only deal with
people in Ealing – but we have a great service that people can be
referred to and paid for by surrounding boroughs.”

He is hopeful that winning the award will help in their search for
funding, and it certainly ended 2002 on a high. “Winning the award
has meant a huge amount to everybody involved in the project,
especially the service users. Everybody was really excited, it was
fantastic for us to be able to go, with four of the trainees, to
have a fabulous afternoon and attend the ceremony. I was thrilled
to be shortlisted, and hadn’t really expected to win, it was a
really pleasant shock!”

Service user Calvin Barzey says the experience of working with the
project has been very positive: “It’s good to work as part of a
team – it’s good training – we do good work, and the award shows
this. I was at the presentation and I think it was one of the best
days of my life.”

Another trainee, Will Sawyer, said: “It’s fun to be with good
people while you are learning, we won the award because we do good
work. We deserve it!”

The prize money will be dedicated to a growing business – in more
senses than one. Supercare has recently rented an allotment where
it can develop its gardening training. The £5,000 will buy a
shed, gardening equipment, plants and pots to enable it to develop
a full training site to grow their own produce with a view to
selling organic produce grown by the trainees. 

– For more about Supercare and Green & Clean visit www.supercare.org.uk 

The learning difficulties category was sponsored by Craegmoor

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