Activate Learning wins national award for supporting SEND learners into employment
Activate Learning, in partnership with Optalis, has been recognised for the work it does to inspire special needs students into employment, with a coveted education award.
The leading education provider with college campuses in Reading, Bracknell, Banbury and Oxford won the Support for Students’ prize at the 2019 Association of Colleges’ Beacon Awards on 22 March. The award recognises the innovative partnership programme for young people with SEND (special educational needs and disabilities).
Reading College worked closely with Optalis to improve life chances and create sustainable job opportunities for students with learning difficulties or disabilities.
Optalis provide a range of adult social care services in Wokingham borough. Optalis' Supported Employment Service developed a groundbreaking course (Ace@Optalis) for Activate Learning’s SEND Learners that has been successfully running since 2014.
Over the last five years, the Supported Employment Service has worked with over 40 students and has a 90% success rate in securing employment or enrolment in industry specific education and training opportunities.
Former Reading College SEND student Lewis(pictured below) was supported through the programme and now works in admin at Optalis. Lewis says: “My job here makes me feel happy and confident as well. I recommend the course to other students because you can get a job... it helps you in life. I’ve been working here for nearly five years now and now I work here independently. The enjoyable part of my day is just working hard and being there for others, other people.”
Pancake day is flipping good fun for young chefs in Wokingham
The Mayor of Wokingham was treated to a sweet feast as chefs flipped and stacked pancakes at the Rainbow Café, located in the Acorn Community Centre in Wokingham.
Customers from Optalis' Supported Employment Service (SES) turned the community café into a pancake pantry for the day serving homemade pancakes with delicious fillings such as banoffee and chocolate to visitors and the Mayor of Wokingham, Cllr John Kaiser.
Supported Employment customers served over 30 hungry guests on the day and were able to gain valuable catering and customer service skills.
Donna Morgans, Optalis' Supported Employment Service Manager, said: "Today has been all about building customers' confidence. They were able to prepare and cook food in a professional kitchen and deal with the kind of pressures that arise in a working environment such as conflicting priorities and the need to be flexible. One of our Ace@Optalis graduates has now achieved paid employment in a café thanks to this kind of experience."
Mayor of Wokingham, Cllr John Kaiser, added: "My traditional pancake was very nice and it was lovely to see so many of the local community coming along to support the chefs. This is the second supported employment event I have been to here and it was nice to meet some old friends."
The Supported Employment Service is designed to support customers to achieve paid employment and work towards gaining independence in their role. Optalis Employment Coaches work closely with the individuals to ensure they are able to gain experience and skills in their chosen career goals.
Amy Jones, who had started with the SES team today as an Employment Coach said, "As first days go, it has got to be the best. Everyone in the team has been incredibly friendly and welcoming. It was great to be surrounded by, and part of, such great teamwork, and to top it off, there were Pancakes! I can't wait to get stuck in some more with everything SES has to offer."
There was lots of positive feedback from the customers who made the pancakes. Laura said, "For the first time I was able to write orders out. I felt very happy because we were kept busy all day" and Naeem said, "I learnt how important team work is and that I like to be busy. It made me feel good about myself. It was good experience and good for my CV."
Optalis is dedicated to its community and strives to ensure its customers, and the organisation, are at the heart of it. Events such as the Pancake Pantry helps to bring communities together and encourages individuals to positively contribute to society.
For more information about Optalis' Supported Employment Service, or if you are a local employer in the Wokingham, Reading or Bracknell area wanting to access a determined workforce, contact Donna on 0118 977 8632 or email email@example.com
Young chefs cook up a feast for Wokingham Mayor
This week, the Rainbow Café, located in the Acorn Community Centre, saw a group of young amateur chefs chop, slice and blend to create and serve a hearty lunch for local residents and special guest, the Mayor of Wokingham.
Customers from Optalis’ Supported Employment service took over the community café for the day to develop their catering and customer service skills, serving freshly made meals to visitors and the Mayor of Wokingham, Cllr John Kaiser.
Donna Morgans, Optalis’ Supported Employment Service Manager, said: “We’re always keen to support our clients and hosting events like these brings new challenges and enables them to gain new skills.”
Mayor of Wokingham, Cllr John Kaiser, added: “It is great to see the Optalis team in action, helping to develop customers’ skills so that they can find meaningful employment in the future.”
The event is designed specifically to support customers to achieve paid employment and work towards gaining independence in their role. Optalis Employment Coaches work closely with the individuals to ensure they are able to gain experience and skills in their chosen career goals.
Supported Employment course kicks off for 5th year
A successful Supported Employment service has launched its fifth year, welcoming young students from the learning disability department at Reading College who are looking to secure employment.
Ace@Optalis has the ultimate goal of supporting students to achieve paid employment and work towards gaining independence in their role.
Thirteen students looking to secure careers in a variety of industries – including catering, retail and horticulture - have joined the course this year, which is held at social care provider Optalis’ Head Office.
One of the new students commented: “I was really nervous when I started, but coaches are really supportive, I really enjoy my work experience and I am more confident.”
Over the last five years, the Supported Employment Service has worked with over 40 students and has a 90% success rate in securing employment or enrolment in industry specific education and training opportunities.
Donna Morgans, Service Manager at Optalis’ Supported Employment Service, added: “We are keen to continue the fantastic success and momentum of the course, encouraging and enabling individuals to fulfil their potential.
“The Ace@Optalis course focuses on individual needs, goals and aspirations and we work closely with the students to provide bespoke support, develop employability skills and engage with prospective employers.
A previous student, who was successful in securing a job as a receptionist, added: “Ace@Optalis is a course which provides the right support for those who need help getting into work. Optalis believe in people who have disabilities - no matter what the disability is. They give you a chance and make you believe in yourself.”
The success of Ace@Optalis is reliant on continued relationships with local employers and the Supported Employment Service is able to assist with adjustments to interviews, training, job coaching and independence at work.
Supported Employment Service customers organised a bonfire afternoon tea event for the local community to celebrate Guy Fawkes and to put their skills into practice.
They baked homemade cakes, took orders and served hot drinks to customers at the Rainbow café in Acorn Community Centre on Monday 5th November.
The Supported Employment Service supports people with a wide range of disabilities by enabling them to fulfil their potential by reaching their employment goals and achieving aspirations.
Donna Morgans, Service Manager at Optalis’ Supported Employment Service, said: “We’re always keen to support our clients and hosting events like these brings new challenges and enable our clients to gain new skills.
“Strengthening team work is one of the main objectives for these events and everyone worked tirelessly from 9-5 to host a bonfire themed event which was enjoyed by the local community.
“We put our clients at the heart of everything we do and ensure that support enables them to increase their confidence and learn new skills which they can take with them into future employment.”
Customers from across Optalis services including Suffolk Lodge in Wokingham, and Oakbridge and Boyn Grove in Windsor and Maidenhead also attended to show their support and enjoyed some “Boomtacular”tray bakes and cream teas.
Plans are under way for their next themed event in December.
Congratulations to Jack and Josh in the Supported Employment Service Team!
Dedicated individuals and teams at Optalis took part in an awards ceremony at Easthampstead Park Conference Centre on 6th June to celebrate going the extra mile. The event consisted of presentations of a certificate and shopping vouchers to the winners followed by an afternoon tea and was attended by all the shortlisted candidates, their nominators and senior managers from Optalis.
A judging panel consisting of staff and a customer chose the winners based on how they live the Optalis Core Values in all they do for customers, colleagues and the local community. There was also a special award for the team that had excelled in their role and new for this year was a Customer Choice award where customers have been encouraged to have their say and nominate an Optalis member of staff who had gone the extra mile for them.
Two of the winners came from the Supported Employment Service Team. Congratulation to SES Transition Lead Josh Hancock who won the Communication Award. The judges said:
Josh Hancock demonstrated communication in his ability to liaise with a range of stakeholders to obtain employment for our client and a job role that would benefit the employer he was working with. As a result a client has a positive outcome, an employer has a valued member of their staff and SES continues to develop and build a good reputation for the work we do."
Jack Parker, SES Employment Coach Team Lead won the Continuous Development Award. The judges said:
"Jack has recently embarked on further professional development by starting his degree in Social Work whilst continuing in his Team Lead role at SES. Jack is juggling full-time academic study and managing a caseload of clients in employment who need additional support to maintain their employment. He is successfully managing all these areas and he has shown initiative when it comes to his own professional development, always willing to learn and providing support in some complex client cases."
Optalis Supported Employment Service achieves accreditation for 5th year running
Support with Confidence (SWC) is a joint initiative between local authorities’ Trading Standards and Adult Social Care Services which makes checks on applicants’ backgrounds, their qualifications and experience, their level of customer service and their compliance with legal standards.
This allows SWC to provide a pre-approved list of businesses and individuals which serves to reassure members of the public that the service they use will be delivered safely.
During the assessment process, the Optalis supported employment team demonstrated the level of quality, practiced enhanced customer care, and equality and diversity that has made the service such a success. The accreditation also recognised the level of safeguarding training carried out for staff and the robustness of the organisations Quality Assurance Policy, which enables customer to give feedback.
Donna Morgans, Service Manager for the Supported Employment Service, said: “We pride ourselves in providing a quality, customer focused and effective service. Achieving this award and being awarded SWC accreditation for the fifth year in a row demonstrates the consistently high quality standards we adhere to, which is reflected in the excellent services we provide for our customers and our communities. I would like to thank Jema Parfitt (our employment co-ordinator) for all her hard work in the preparation and collation of information for the accreditation process.”
Optalis awarded Disability Confident accreditation
We are very pleased to announce that the Supported Employment Service team has helped Optalis to be accredited with Disability Confident Employer status in recognition of our commitment to good practice in employing and retaining disabled people.
Our status as a Disability Confident Employer shows that Optalis has successfully completed a self-assessment ensuring that we are taking all of the required core actions. We must also offer at least one activity outlined by the Disability Confident guidelines to ensure we are getting the right people for our business and at least one activity to keep and develop our workforce. Martin Farrow, Optalis CEO said, “This is excellent news and a victory for great teamwork and making things happen which reflect why we all do what we do.”
World Mental Health Day – 10th October
Optalis are jointly funding an event together with Berkshire Health Care Trust and Involve, in partnership with WIWAG (Wellbeing in Wokingham Action Group) for World Mental Health Day on 10th October at Cantley House Hotel from 10am until 3pm.
The event is free and open to everyone and is designed to provide information about services and support services across Wokingham as well as some inspirational speakers and exciting workshops. Optalis Supported Employment Service Manager Donna Morgans and her team will be at the event to support and provide guidance on education courses, volunteering and employment opportunities. More info will follow soon.
A really rewarding training awayday
The Supported Employment Team had a really useful training awayday recently. We would like to thank our host employer who allowed us to use their boardroom. We are very grateful to Sheila Sheldon, Vice President of Global at Michael C. Fina Worldwide (Wokingham)
Optalis Supported Employment Service Manager wins ‘highly commended’ award
Congratulations to Donna Morgans, Optalis Supported Employment Service Manager who has received the ‘highly commended’ award in the Workplace Mental Health Awards category at the Thames Valley Business Awards. The awards ceremony took place on Thursday 16 November at the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre at Madejski stadium and Donna was accompanied by Lead Employment Coach Jack Parker (pictured with Donna) and Chief Executive Officer Martin Farrow. Donna said, “Words can’t express how I felt last night at the Thames Valley Business Magazine Awards, but I’ll give it a go! I feel honoured, emotional and truly grateful for Jack Parker who nominated me!
"Jack kept things under wraps from the nomination stage to being shortlisted and finally broke his silence once I was a finalist! Thank you Jack! To be recognised for something I feel so passionate about and part of my day-to-day work was amazing! An evening I will never forget!”
We are the champions!
Congratulations to Optalis Supported Employment Service (SES) on winning this year's Star Award for Outstanding Team Effort - SES continues to provide a first class service to all their clients and works tirelessly to enable our clients to reach their employment goals and aspirations. A well-deserved award for a first class team!
Wokingham Adult and Community Employability Courses 2016 – 2017
Supported Employment Service will be running a variety of workshops across the borough in partnership with Wokingham Borough Council’s Targeted Learning Service and is funded by the Skills Funding Agency (SFA), part of the Department for Education.
We will be facilitating courses focusing on employability skills; ranging from practical interview techniques, effectively communicating your transferable skills into new job applications, using tools that will help you access job opportunities. You will become efficient in targeting your job search and learn how to promote your skills within application forms and personal statements. You will learn IT skills in video/social media resources, Skype interviewing and social media.
If required you will be able to make use of an employment coach who will be able to provide tailored support
As part of the course you will work with your tutor to ensure you are making progress and identify any further learning needs. Our Tutors and Employment Coaches are also IAG trained and come with a wealth of experience.
For information on eligibility, dates and venues or to enrol on any of these courses please contact us:
Phone: 0118 977 8632
Optalis, Trinity Court, Molly Millars
Lane, Wokingham, Berkshire, RG412GY
Supported Employment Service holds career clinics at Addington School, Woodley
Friday 8 July
At Supported Employment Service Optalis, we work with a variety of different people who have different employment needs and are covered by the disability provision of the equality act 2010. This includes people with Learning Disabilities, Mental Health Issues, Sensory Needs, Acquired Brain Injury, and Long Term Health Conditions. We also provide support for Carers and people with Substance Misuse issues
As Transition Team lead, Josh Hancock is passionate about engaging with young people in order to give them the best possible chance of achieving their goals and aspirations in employment. School and College leavers are at such a vital time in their lives. Getting the right employment support and experience at this time can have a huge impact on the rest of their lives, increasing their confidence, independence and long term employability.
As a client of Optalis you can expect a dedicated service, with passionate and experienced job coaches who will help provide the support you need to become employable. We understand that no two people are the same. As such we pride ourselves on being able to provide a tailored service, structured around the needs of the individual. Support we provide to clients can include:
- 1-1 appointments
- Travel training
- Support with CV building, Job searching and Application Forms
- Confidence building and communication skills development
- Support understanding the expectations and standards of the working world.
- Work Experience
- Advice and Guidance with Benefits
- 1-1 job coaching
- Employer support and reasonable adjustments.
The reputation of our service and development of the clients we support has led us to work with several different Colleges and Schools across Berkshire. Working in conjunction with Reading College, we facilitate a 1 year Supported Employment Course. We provide an Intensive employment course, working closely with local employers to help the students find paid, permanent employment in line with their goals and aspirations. The course is about to enter its third academic year, the previous two years have resulted in 90% of students receiving paid job offers.
We are always keen to work with families, and adopt a person centred approach. If you would like to hear more about our service, Josh will be in the Careers office at Addington School on Thursday 29th September, Thursday 24th November and Thursday 26th January from 2pm until 4.30pm.
Ace@Optalis is top of the class!
Thursday 30 June 2016
Reading College students are celebrating their graduation from a job-focused course run by the Wokingham-based Optalis Supported Employment Service. The course Ace@Optalis provides specialist training, coaching and support to enable students to make the transition from college into a work environment.
The course involves students attending Trinity Court at Optalis and participating in group training sessions, weekly 1-1 meetings with a job coach, goal setting, vocational profiling, managing stress, interview practice, travel training, work experience and paid work in partnership with local businesses and organisations such as the Forest School Wokingham, Sainsbury’s in Newbury, Poundland in Reading, MITIE Basingstoke, Rivermead leisure centre, Berkshire Rooms in Wokingham.
Sylvie De Groote at the Forest School said: “Being able to offer employment to the students has been very rewarding. We have a very good relationship with Optalis, Donna Morgans has been brilliant and supported us every step of the way, so have the Employment Coaches, they are always at the end of the phone or email – it’s been great!”
Don James (Berkshire Rooms) said, “I found my experience working with Optalis to be very rewarding and also very beneficial to my company.”
Shantelle Black, one of the SES graduate students who now works at the Forest School said, “I love my new job; it’s busy but the staff are lovely and I feel like I am making a real contribution.”
The students were presented with graduation certificates by Wokingham Council’s Mayor, Cllr Bob Pitts at the Optalis office at Trinity Court on 13 June. The award ceremony was packed with students, parents, employers and colleagues who enjoyed a specially-baked cake and tea following the certificate presentations.
More information about the service available from Donna Morgans, Supported Employment Service manager on (0118) 989 0500, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Co-production at its best!
The Action 4 All Partnership Board in Wokingham, which supports people with autism and their families, have received a £500 donation from the Rotary Club of Wokingham to embark on a new way of sharing information online.
The donation will fund an online moderator role, creating a great opportunity for an individual with strong IT skills to utilise them in a positive way. Donna Morgans, who manages the Supported Employment Service at Optalis, said: “I would like to thank the multi-agency team that have made this initiative possible. This is a way for one of our clients to gain hands-on experience in a working environment opening up future opportunities for work supported by the employment service within Optalis.”
ASD Family Help will undertake the employment role and Tom Chant from Become Digital will mentor the individual and supply a working environment to create and develop a website which will share vital information and links for families. Optalis, through their supported employment service, are providing support to both their client and the employer and involve have loaned a laptop to the project.
If you’d like to know more about how involve can help voluntary and community groups in the Wokingham Borough, please contact Clare Rebbeck. email@example.com
For more information about the Optalis Supported Employment Service please contact Service Manager Donna Morgans on 0118 977 8600 (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Donna goes to Westminster
Friday 5 May 2017
Optalis Supported Employment Service Manager Donna Morgans will be attending a national service of celebration and hope dedicated to ‘Lives Worth Talking About’ on 9 May at Westminster Abbey.
The event has been organised by DrugFam which was founded in 2006, following the death of Nicholas Mills, who died by suicide in 2004 after a long battle with addiction. DrugFAM’s aim is to ensure no families; friends or carers are left living in isolation, fear and ignorance of national support. The organisation has since become a nationally respected charity for the support of families affected by addiction.
Donna was invited to attend because of her work supporting people with substance misuse issues since 2005.
The service is intended to be a unifying event which will inspire national conversations to challenge the prejudice and stigma of addiction. It will also provide an opportunity for families to proudly and publicly remember the lives of those lost to addiction, and to acknowledge the strength and courage of all those who are affected by someone else’s drug or alcohol misuse. These are all ‘Lives Worth Talking About’.
Supported Employment Service supports new play
SES has provided support to a new play based on the true story of a Wokingham family’s experience of drug addiction. The play, ‘Mum Can You Lend Me Twenty Quid?’ was performed at St Crispin’s School on April 5; an event was funded by Wokingham Borough Council via the Drug and Alcohol Action Team (DAAT)
SES provided information on what employment, education and volunteering support is available for local
residents who have dealt with substance misuse.
Donna Morgans and Angela White from the service were present on the day and evening of the
performance, and provided information and expertise to any audience members who wanted to discuss supported employment issues.
Service manager of SES, Katrina Reeves, said: “We were very happy to attend and offer practical advice to anyone from the audience who wanted to find out more about what we do. Our workers have a great deal of expertise working with people who have experienced substance misuse, and part of how we support people is by enabling them to find a suitable pathway back into employment.”
The afternoon play was opened by Mayor Cllr Bob Wyatt, and during the evening Stuart Rowbotham,
Wokingham Borough Council’s strategic director health and wellbeing attended. The Right Honourable
Theresa May MP was also in attendance.
Well done Donna!
Tom Hilton, LLDD Manager at the Raising Participation Partnership in Reading took the time this
month to write to us and express his thanks to Donna Morgans, Deputy Manager of Supported
Employment here at Optalis…
“I wanted to send you a quick email because the balance of my work is shifting a little and this will mean I
am working less directly with Donna and Optalis’ Supported Employment Team.
This seemed a good time thank Donna for all the excellent work she has done, and I’m sure will continue to
do, in spreading the ‘word’ with regard to sustainable employment and the deployment of job coaches not
only amongst our partner providers - Further Education Colleges and Special Schools - but also across our
other RPP Authorities (Slough, Reading and West Berkshire).
I have been meeting regularly with the supported Employment teams in the four RRP LAs for over two
years now. Our agenda has been about sharing good practice between the LAs but also involving pre and
post 16 providers to measure their efforts with regard to the employment of young people with learning
difficulties and disabilities against that of our supported employment teams. We held a Supported
Employment Even in November 2011 and this really kick-started a wider debate in colleges about what
‘employment’ for these young people really means. We have continued to work closely with all our FE
Colleges to help them to develop real sustainable employment opportunities and the role of the job coach.
This is yielding real results as Colleges are adapting their programmes and re-examining the ways they
can partner with the LA Supported Employment Services.
Because of Donna’s commitment and enthusiasm, and due to the fact that, along with Royal Borough of
Windsor and Maidenhead, she has developed the most effective service in Berkshire, Donna has led on
much of this work. She has passionately put forward the case and really started to change the way our
partners view employment and disability, working successfully with all our local Colleges.
The other local authorities have learned much from Donna’s approach and commitment and are looking at
their own services in the light of the approach of Optalis.”