Oxfordshire Employment makes a kitchen job the perfect recipe for Tilly’s happiness

It’s no exaggeration to say that getting her first job was a dream come true for Tilly Woodley.

The 21-year-old from Blackbird Leys, Oxford, who has a learning disability, never thought she would find paid employment, let alone a role that she so thoroughly enjoys.

“When they offered me the job I was really, really shocked. I was speechless. I really like it here and feel very happy and settled.”

Tilly, who works as a kitchen assistant two days a week in a care home, added: “I do all sorts of kitchen duties like washing up, peeling potatoes, prepping food and sandwiches. Sometimes, I help serve the residents and that helps me build up my confidence a bit more by talking to them. They are all lovely people.”

Her job success is all thanks to her own determination plus help from Oxfordshire County Council’s Adult Social Care team at Oxfordshire Employment – a service that is in the running for a prestigious national award.

It has dedicated employment advisers who support people with long term health issues or disabilities to find and remain in employment.

Tilly is one of its many success stories. She found her perfect job through a Supported Internship Programme – a partnership between Oxfordshire Employment, Mencap, Activate Learning and Abingdon and Witney College.

The scheme supports young people who have an education and health care support plan into work placements with an expectation of employment.

Currently the programme is achieving positive outcomes above the national average and this year more than 66 per cent of interns will enter the job market.

Tilly works in the kitchens at MHA Brookfield Care Home, just a short stroll from her family home in Blackbird Leys.

Oxfordshire Employment’s team contacted Home Manager Christine Hamilton who felt the principle of helping people like Tilly into work chimed with her charitable organisation’s core values of being a person-centre for both residents and staff as well as forging links in the community.

She said: “It is really important that we recognise that as an employer we have a responsibility to support our local community in gaining the skills they need to enable them to have a meaningful career. I have been very impressed by the enthusiasm shown by our interns.

“It’s been such a positive experience,” says Christine who has been at the 66-bed care and nursing home for the past 18 months. “I would recommend this partnership to any employer in the county. We’ve taken on another intern as well as Tilly and I hope her story will inspire others to take part.”

Tilly, spent 10 months taking part in a supported internship – three days a week in the work environment and one day a week at City of Oxford College.

She recalls: “I had to learn all sorts of things on my course like health and safety and Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH). It was quite a lot of work. But I enjoyed it. When I came to Brookfield I was quite scared and nervous to start with. But everyone was very helpful and supportive and I was able settle in really well.”

Her delight at getting the job affected her whole family. The youngest of five children, Tilly beams with pride as she says how proud her mum and dad are of her, how they all celebrated her success and how she can now treat them to a meal from her wages.

Her advice to other young people like her about Oxfordshire Employment and internships is: “Go for it. Give it a shot and see how you settle in. Don’t be scared. You’ll settle in quickly. When I get up in the morning I’m excited to go to work.”

Kate Terroni, Director of Adult Social Care, said: “We’re really proud of our employment service and the success it has with supporting people into work. Having a job can often provide people with so much more than just an income; it provides many of us with a sense of identity and purpose.

“It is a privilege to hear Tilly’s story and I would echo her encouragement to others to make contact with our service if they’re interested in being supported into work. Our employment service is reliant on having employers willing to provide placements, so I would also encourage them to consider the value that this scheme can have to their place of work.”

And Cllr Lawrie Stratford, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet member for Adult Care and Public Health added: “It’s a fantastic achievement for both Tilly and our employment service. I’m particularly pleased given my visit to the service earlier this year where I met two ‘interns’. The county council's vision is to create opportunities to ensure all people, our communities as well as the local economy, thrive. This initiative and its results show positive outcomes in all areas.”

Will Gardner, Manager at Oxfordshire Employment, said: “Our Partnership with MHA has been fantastic and marks the start of a new 'Pathway to Care' initiative which aims to support people furthest from employment as a result of disability, or a health barrier to start a career in the care sector. We'd welcome the chance to work with other providers in the sector: if you can help, please get in touch.”

Oxfordshire Employment has been nominated for an industry award by the national trade organisation BASE (British Association for Supported Employment). The nomination is in recognition of the achievement of the whole service – including the County Print Finishers – in supporting people into employment.

Any county business interested in finding out more about possibilities of working with Oxfordshire Employment is asked to contact 01865 815809 or email oes@oxfordshire.gov.uk