Finding permanent work has been a long struggle for Elliot Dunn. Diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, he can find it difficult at times to cope in a work environment.

Elliot was diagnosed at the age of three and completed a BTech in Interactive Media at Stockton Riverside College. Now 25, he has had a number of jobs but has struggled with the changing environments and short-term contracts. He finds job interviews very stressful so needs support to demonstrate his abilities to fulfil the role.

Daisy Chain has been a part of his life for many years but as he grew older his parents were concerned he was becoming more isolated, spending too much time alone in his room and not engaging in any social activities.

So, Elliot enrolled on Daisy Chain’s employability course which is run at the charity’s Superstore on Portrack Lane. It offers an Entry Level 3 qualification for people over 16 with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or undergoing diagnosis delivered in a highly supportive environment.

Says Elliot, ‘I was made redundant from a couple of jobs and then I would find it hard to get another one as I really struggle with job interviews.’

Daisy Chain’s employability course covers a wide range of topics such as food hygiene, manual handling, health and safety, communication at work, customer care and job interview skills. Students also have the opportunity to take part in an enterprise project. There is usually a maximum of four students in a group working with two members of staff.

Employability coordinator Donna Chisholm says, ‘The enterprise project is a little like an Apprentice style challenge where students come up with an idea to raise funds for Daisy Chain and then they have to carry it out from start to finish. When they achieve what they set out to, it really builds their confidence and self-esteem. It’s lovely to see them develop and progress and enjoy the activity.’

The students meet once each week during term time with mornings spent undertaking group learning activities then the afternoon is supported work experience in the Daisy Chain superstore’s various departments including working in the coffee shop, on the shop floor and behind the scenes sorting and pricing the donations.

The course is completed in six to eight months. Daisy Chain also works with a variety of businesses, organisations and charities in the local area to set up supported work placements. Some students can move on from the employability course to a work placement while others may go directly into a supported work environment in line with their interests and strengths.

Elliot has moved on from the employability course and has been on a supported work placement one day a week for over a year now with the Onsite Building Trust. The charity runs seven community resource centres, renting office space and booking out meeting and event spaces within them to raise funds to keep the centres open. Elliot is based at Ragworth Community Centre in Stockton-on-Tees where he undertakes a variety of administration tasks including dealing with the post and logging cheques and cash.

Finance officer Leanne Abdale is Elliot’s ‘go to’ person in the office and Donna visits regularly to check the day and the placement is going smoothly.

Leanne says, ‘Elliot is brilliant with figures so he is taking on a skilled responsibility. We work together for him to be able to take some time between tasks so he can process what he needs to do and it works very well.’

Donna offers regular meetings and autism specific support to both the placement and the provider.

Elliot adds, ‘I enjoy getting work experience, it builds my confidence in the workplace,’ Elliot explains. ‘I also volunteer at Daisy Chain. I just clicked there and really love it. I work in some of the social groups and help out on Saturday activity days. It helps me personally and I want to help other children get through what I have been through. It’s good that I can be of benefit to them as well as it being of benefit to me.’

Elliot won the Young Volunteer of the Year award in 2016 from Stockton’s voluntary development agency, Catalyst’s annual achievement awards.

11th October 2017