Frontline: Yarrow Employment Project

Graham Willgoss

What it is: Yarrow is a free service to encourage employers in west London to give people with learning difficulties a chance to work

What it does: Matches candidates to suitable vacancies and provides pre-employment training and on-going support to employers and employees

How it's funded: With grants that will last for two years from Lloyds TSB (£12,000), City Parochial Foundation (£40,000), Mercers Company (£10,000) and the Bridge House Trust (£35,000)

Emma Alexander is an office assistant for Mencap Hammersmith and Fulham Advocacy Service. "I really like my job because it is interesting and people respect me," she says. "I hope to use this work experience to help get a paid job either as a receptionist, a secretary or working with children."

Emma is one of five people with learning disabilities supported by Yarrow Employment Project, which helped her find and maintain her work-experience position. Her boss, office administrator Verity Rofe-Sheridan, describes her as an "indispensable team member".

Yarrow, which also runs care homes for people with learning disabilities, invites its clients to identify a job they are interested in. Yarrow tries to match its clients' abilities with the skills that prospective employers require.

Rofe-Sheridan says: "Having diversity in the office helps build the character of the team. There are misconceptions about people with learning disabilities, but they have real skills and, with the right support, they can develop and achieve."

Ann Wimbledon, Yarrow's director of business development, is keen to expand the employment project. She says: "If a major company got involved it would give others the confidence to follow suit. People with learning disabilities want to be employed. They are not tokenistic."

Some people have severe learning disabilities and need a lot of support, such as help with transport to work. Others with mild or moderate learning disabilities need less support, but require instruction on interview techniques, confidence building and specific skills.

Matt Voss, catering manager at the Hilton Hotel in Kensington, says: "People with learning disabilities are no different from anyone else in that they have strengths and weaknesses. The role of a manager is to identify employees' strengths and help build on them."

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