Finding a foothold in the world of gainful employment is a difficult endeavour for many. But for those with learning disabilities, the picture can look very bleak.
Recent figures show less than a quarter are in paid employment. Even though an estimated 65 per cent of people with a learning disability would like a job.
Work experience for this section of society is scarce.
Enter Plough Corner Garden Centre and Café, in Little Clacton. Around 50 people of all ages with learning disabilities run almost every aspect of the business.
The purpose? Crucial life experience and training for its clients.
Run by Essex Cares Ltd, the centre exists to help them “feel relevant” in today’s society.
Clients can work to a level with which they feel comfortable. They could be engaging with paying customers in the café or garden centre. They may be in the packaging department.
Clare Stalker has headed it up since October.
She said: “We provide work in a realistic environment.
“At the same time we are helping them to complete paperwork and move forward, trying to meet each individual’s outcomes.
“We want to build to the point where many can get into employment.
“We also continue to support them to the extent they want or need support further down the line.
“Some people, in reality, aren’t going to have the ability to get paid employment.
“This still gives them a feeling of self-worth.
“Everybody’s assessed on their level of need and how much they can do.
“They are all part of our community, be it someone who is more comfortable at the front of house or someone better off in our packaging department.
“They would rather be in the garden centre learning how to use the tools, learning how to price up different products, or working in the kitchen.”
Ten full-time members of staff and one part-time worker are on hand to guide the clients through their experience.
But staff must be prepared to adjust their treatment of the clients to meet each person’s individual needs.
The café and garden centre are open from 8.30am until 4pm from Monday to Friday.