September 23

My Journey So Far with Leonard Cheshire

“Set a goal so big that you can’t achieve it, until you grow into the person who can”

Zig Ziglar

Exactly around this time of year, 5 years ago I remember being sat around a table amongst other graduates ready to start our career at GSK on the IT Future Leaders Programme. The air was filled with anticipation and excitement as we spent days being taken through the on-boarding journey and hearing about the opportunities that await us. One of these sessions introduced the concept of the PULSE programme, a unique skilled-based volunteering programme for 3-6 months to step away from the daily office environment and work for a non-profit organisation and experience something totally different. Upon hearing about this amazing opportunity to work with charity organisations, I remember thinking to myself “wow, one day, when I have been here long enough to build up the experience and skills, I’m gonna do that!” I wasn’t sure how or when – but that was it, subconsciously my mind had been set and now, here I am writing my first blog while being almost 4 months into the programme.

GSK had offered me the exciting opportunity to work with Leonard Cheshire, a global charity organisation aimed at supporting people with disabilities to live, learn and work as independently as they choose. I must admit, I hadn’t really heard of them before so immediately I went to good old google! My 6-month assignment is based in London, where the weather is always nice, and the people are friendly…. *rolls eyes* since doing a home-based assignment worked out better for me. I joined Leonard Cheshire in June as a “Community Evaluation Consultant” working with the Community Partnerships team at head office, who engage with internal and external partners to build and expand on social care services and activities in order to support people with disabilities within their local communities.

A bit of background on Leonard Cheshire

To give you a little background on what Leonard Cheshire do, their vision is to build a fair and inclusive world where everyone can live as independently as they choose. Their services can be categorised in three key areas:

Care and Accommodation: Leonard Cheshire has around 150 care homes offering 24/7 support to the residents with more serious needs. For those who prefer the comfort of their own home, they also provide supported living arrangements where they provide in-house care.

Learning and Lifestyle: From accessible holiday planning/trips, skill-based development and volunteering, all the way through to providing training to develop IT skills and learning about technology, Leonard Cheshire has a programme for all age ranges and all interests.

Employment: Examples include supporting students with securing internships as well as running training workshops with various companies on how to be more disability inclusive in the workplace

My experience so far…

My first few weeks was spent learning all about the different programmes that they offer and getting to know the teams that I will be working with over the course of the assignment. Let’s just say it was a very busy first few weeks as I can’t remember the last time that I had to speak to so many people in such a short space of time! Being naturally quite a chitty chatty person, having many conversations with various people was fine, but it was more the being able to remember everything afterwards part that I struggled with! I found it amazing to hear about the work they do as an organisation and to be a part of it somehow, made me feel motivated and proud.

Last year, the department that I am working for introduced a new way of working among the organisation that really changes the way that all the programmes and services operate within a community hub. What I mean by ‘community hub’ is, if we take one location such as Manchester, for example, where Leonard Cheshire have a variety of care services and programmes established, the range of these services/programmes available within a community is known as the community hub. This includes both Leonard Cheshire services as well services operated by other partner charities and organisations with a similar aim to support people with disabilities. Previously what happened was each service/programme within the hub would operate in silos. Now however, they are encouraging a “community approach” where all programmes and services both internal and external in each location operate as one single collaborative team leveraging existing partnerships and creating new ones, with the view to create a seamless experience for customers so that they can easily access a variety of programmes/services within their community. As part of this project, the team selected 11 key locations for last year to implement this new way of working. In addition, a review was carried out to map out all the services currently established within each of these priority locations to identify any unmet needs that remain, in which case, the team worked together to set up new initiatives to provide more within the community locations.

My role in all of this, includes the following:

  • To evaluate the impact of the community approach for all last year’s 11 key locations, and assess how well the teams involved have embraced this new way of working, per location
  • Identify if the organisation can reach more people with disabilities now, compared to before in order to measure if their new approach is having the desired effects
  • Suggest improvements/recommendations on changes that can be made which would potentially enable them to support a larger number of people with disabilities across the UK
  • Designing and carrying out surveys/interviews, conducted on a one-to-one basis as well as within focus groups with staff from all over the organisation and at various levels in order to support the evaluation
  • Collating all the above research and developing an evaluation report to present back to senior management, which will facilitate them with future decision making and strategy

I would say it has been quite a learning curve since I have not really done anything of this nature before that is so research intensive as my background is mostly within IT and business. The work is interesting and enjoyable, and I am learning a lot about disabilities in general, some of it very eye opening. It really makes you think about the challenges that some people live with and how everyday basic tasks can become a real struggle. I am really happy to see that there are so many organisations all around the UK, just like Leonard Cheshire who are so focussed on supporting people with disabilities to feel less isolated and at ease within their local communities.

Some of the highlights:

Winning the “Most Creative Cake” at the office charity cake bake competition

I recently developed an interest in baking and decorating cakes, so when I saw an email flying around about a cake competition to raise money for the charity, I thought hey why not! And I actually won one of the prizes for the most creative cake…hah! me – someone who never wins anything in competitions! And this was only 3 weeks into the start of my assignment, so I guess this was one way to become well-known in the office and meet new people! 4 months down the line and I am still getting requests to make more cake! And, if I may say so myself, it was pretty nice 😀

Pictures of all the bakes were posted all over Leonard Cheshire’s social media, including pictures of me and my cake – (mini celebrity moment for me)

Me receiving my award for winning the office Charity Cake Bake competition

And the award-winning cake is a Coconut Victoria Sponge cake – with lots buttercream – …and yes, for those who know me well, obviously, it is pink!

Volunteering at a Manga Art Exhibition at the British Museum:

I was very keen to meet some of our clients and experience these activities and programmes myself that the organisation runs to get a real view on this, so when the opportunity came up to volunteer at a workshop, I didn’t hang around! The trip involved entry to a Manga Art exhibition held at the British Museum, where the museum had setup an art workshop especially for the Leonard Cheshire residents of care homes. Again, I learnt a lot that day about something I really didn’t expect to..Japanese Art!

There was a large group of Leonard Cheshire clients that were attending this event, our role as volunteers was to support them throughout the day including safely directing and transporting them through the busy hustle and bustle of the British Museum, and encouraging them to have a go at some art work activities themselves. It was good to see them coming out of there shell and really getting involved.

Below, on the right hand side is an example of one of the creative drawings created by one of the clients that I was supporting during day, who really got stuck in! For a bit of fun, for those who entered the exhibition they had the chance to take a selfie and have this transformed into a Manga art inspired image, which was then displayed on the live wall at the museum. Somewhere in the below picture on the left is myself and some of the people from our group on the Manga live wall. (p.s, if you’re wondering, I’m the one waving with a huge smile 😀 )

It will be interesting to see how the next few month’s unfold as I get in to the main bulk of work once all of my research and analysis is complete –  then for the final evaluation!