Witham MP welcomes Minister for Disabled People, Health and Work to Witham
Priti Patel, the Member of Parliament for Witham, welcomed the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Tom Pursglove MP, to the constituency on Thursday 18th May for visits to local organisations that support education and employment opportunities for special needs children and young people.
Priti and Minister Pursglove visited Chatten Free School in Witham, with Gary Smith OBE, Chief Executive of the Hope Learning Community Trust and Naomi Smith, project manager and lead for Market Field Grows. There was a productive discussion on the current issues around the employment prospects for people with special educational needs. The Minister and Priti discussed the significant expansion in SEND provision across Essex, which has given essential local support to many local children in a safe environment, where they are able to develop.
The Minister and Priti also visited Lauriston Farm in Goldhanger, which is a biodynamic social farming co-operative based on the Blackwater Estuary. The farm is a charitable, community owned enterprise which works alongside people with learning disabilities who are helped by farm staff to learn all aspects of day-to-day farming work including horticulture, animal husbandry, conservation and woolly crafts.
Whilst touring the farm, Spencer Christy, the Farm Director, was able to show the Minister the various activities taking place on the farm and to meet some of the young people with SEND employed there. He also met young people on Supported Internships and work experience, as well as adults on day placements.
Speaking after the visits, Priti said: “It was wonderful to welcome Tom to Witham this morning to meet with Gary and Naomi to discuss the Market Field School plans to help people with learning disabilities into employment after they leave education. There is much more we can do to help support that transition, and the Market Field Grows proposal sounds like a very interesting and innovative approach.
“It was also great to be able to show him the tremendous work that Lauriston Farm does through their Supported Internships and work experience for students with SEND and day placements for adults with a learning disability. I have visited the farm a few times now, and it is a fantastic example of Essex leading the way on this important issue.“
Tom Pursglove, DWP Minister said: “As the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, I was very pleased to meet with several fantastic organisations in Witham with my brilliant friend and colleague, Priti Patel MP, on Thursday, to see for myself the hard work going into supporting young disabled people and SEN students in reaching their full potential, with the aim of them securing and retaining meaningful and productive paid employment.
“It was very useful to meet with Gary Smith OBE, Chief Executive of the Hope Learning Community Trust and Naomi Smith, project manager and lead, to hear about their plans for ‘Market Field Grows’, which aims to bridge the gap between education and employment for people with SEN. During what was a constructive discussion, I heard some helpful insights regarding support for people with SEN approaching work and how key ‘transition points’ in life are important moments, with joined-up, responsive provision required. It sounds to me as though ‘Market Field Grows’ will help do just that in Essex and is an extremely exciting initiative.
“It was also really interesting to visit Lauriston Farm with inspirational Farm Director, Spencer Christy, and his dedicated team, to further understand how offering day placements for young people can enhance and focus their learning beyond a traditional classroom setting. I really enjoyed meeting some of the young people completing their day placements out on the farm, and it was great to see how rewarding they were and the enthusiasm around the work, often then leading to longer-term placements paving the way to permanent, good quality work.
“Ultimately, the innovative approaches taken by these organisations not only ensures that SEN pupils and young disabled people have the skills and confidence to take on employment, but also provides the opportunity for employers to understand how employment processes and the working environment can be properly adapted to ensure their full potential is being reached.
“I’m really grateful to have been able to visit and am reflecting on what more we can do in Government to best support young disabled people, and people with SEN, to achieve their full potential and realise the benefits of good quality work.”
Gary Smith OBE, Chief Executive of the Hope Learning Community Trust said: “It was a pleasure once again to welcome Priti to Chatten Free School, this time with the Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, to discuss our proposals to help support people with learning disabilities into work after leaving education. Priti is a great supporter of the SEN sector and is always willing to help.”
Spencer Christy, Lauriston Farm Director, commenting on the Minister’s visit said: “The whole farm was very grateful to Priti Patel for organising the visit of the Minister for Disabilities, Tom Pursglove. It gave us an opportunity to explain the different pathways we offer people with learning disabilities and/or autism to engage with meaningful work within the farm community. The Minister also learnt about some challenges we face and we found both his and Priti’s interest and enthusiasm for our work very encouraging.”