Ben has had a series of work placements, none of which have resulted in a paid job. The first was through an employment support agency, and we accepted it as a temporary, unpaid opportunity for Ben to learn new skills and experience a life of work. His next eight-month placement with a national pub chain also ended abruptly without a job offer, despite apparent satisfaction with his performance. The third unpaid placement was with an international burger chain, where he kept the dining area clean, assisted kitchen staff and worked the fryers. They even called him in extra days (still unpaid) when they expected to be busy. Again - the placement ended without the offer of paid work.
Call me cynical, but I've come to the conclusion that large chains provide work experience to people with learning disabilities solely to give the public impression that they're inclusive and supportive, but have no intention of ever employing and paying them. It seems to me that, if a work placement is offered, so should a job at the end of it, providing the individual proves themselves to be capable of doing the job.Ben's most recent placement was in a local authority training project. Here he obtained qualifications in catering and food safety, so I'm not critical of the scheme itself, but it did lack the move-on opportunities and employment support that trainees desperately needed.
Ben, his Dad Mike and I were out to dinner on Friday evening and we got talking about Ben and his lack of work - it's something that often frustrates me that he's worked unpaid so often, but those same employers let him go when the placement comes to an end. I piped up "I'm going to tweet it" . I did so with the original "won't someone give..." tweet.
I quickly sent a retweet request to British comedian, Boothby Graffoe (@boobygraffoe), (regular support act for Barenaked Ladies). He suggested I put a picture together with extra information, and he designed a new tweet from that, which attracted more initial attention, with a steady flow of retweets.
On Saturday night, Jason Manford (comedian) retweeted the first tweet of mine, and support grew steadily through Sunday. On Monday morning, I woke to find that local radio stations, Radio City and Radio Merseyside and the local press (Liverpool Echo) had picked up the story and it really started to snowball. Mike did a phone interview on radio Merseyside on Monday.
Tuesday saw two photoshoots, one for a national news agency and one for the Liverpool Echo.
Wednesday the story was featured as a Seattle TV news item and ITN contacted us to arrange a filmed interview forThursday - we've also been approached by Good Morning Britain, a national breakfast TV programme, who are discussing doing either a live feed or getting us into the studio in London to do an interview.
We have had a few requests for Ben's CV, but also three possible job offers already - one in a family-run restaurant in the outskirts of Liverpool called Wilson's Kitchen, one from the manager of Costa Coffee in Liverpool Royal Hospital and one based in a school for people with autism in Huyton, near Liverpool - the latter two are on a single bus route, so are appealing because Ben could learn to get to work independently, thus further improving his skills and increasing his confidence and self-esteem. The School have also said that, given their specialism, they would be able to provide Ben with any additional support he might need to learn his role and maintain his employment.
Ben is a really friendly young man. He enjoys being around people and aspires to all the things that he sees other adults achieving around him. His interests include WWE and soap operas.
Ben is also a keen gymnast, and has been a member of Spartac Gymnastic Club, based at Edge Hill University in Ormskirk, since he was six. The club is for people with learning disabilities, with some mainstream members to promote inclusivity, not only performing and competing for its own sake, but also using gymnastics to help build physical strength and self-discipline. The club is at the forefront of disability gymnastics, and they represent Great Britain at the international Gymstradas, along with other visits and performances at invitation (international events: Finland, Switzerland, Austria and Portugal) They also performed as guest troop at events in 2013 at the Liverpool Empire and the Savoy Theatre in London (the latter attended by Princess Beatrice). He also travelled to New York last year with his drama club, where he participated in a theatre performance.
The public and media reaction has been hard to take in. I'm stunned at how many people cared enough about one young man. I hoped for enough of a flurry of interest to reach a few local employers who would be willing to consider employing Ben and willing to make the necessary adjustments for him to utilise his skills to the full - I had no idea the country, never mind the rest of the world, would engage with the appeal so much.