As many people will know, I am incredibly passionate about the people we support becoming more independent and securing jobs, whether paid or voluntary, in the local community. I believe that through obtaining employment, individuals can learn a number of new skills and it enables them to become more self-sufficient as they earn their own money, can, where possible, travel to and from their workplace by themselves, and will develop a greater understanding of accountability and taking responsibility for tasks assigned to them.
At CMG, we have seven people who live at one of our services and who hold jobs at our Head Office in Leatherhead. Simon Tobin is one of these individuals and this week, I’d like to discuss his journey.
Simon has autism and moved to our Hillview service in Merstham in mid 2012 (he is now based at Heathcote Road in Epsom), having previously lived at a residential boarding school in Hampshire. Prior to joining CMG Simon had already begun holding talks where he discussed his experience of living with autism, but these were sporadic due to both his lack of confidence and knowledge of who to contact to spread his message on a wider scale.
In early 2013, not long after Simon had joined us, Andy Wasley (our Employment Officer) got in touch with Sarah Evans, our Head of Human Resources and Learning and Development, to make Sarah aware of Simon’s prior experience speaking to groups of people and his passion for advocating on behalf of those also diagnosed with autism. This led to Sarah offering Simon the opportunity to run training sessions for new members of staff specifically around autism awareness. Titled ‘Autism and Me’, Simon has now been running these sessions for almost five years and where he used to only do a session every couple of months, Simon is now employed by the L&D team to hold 3 to 4 sessions per month.
In his presentation to new members of staff at CMG, Simon covers a breath of topics related to his autism specifically as well as autism in general. He discusses sensory needs, behaviour and communication and emotional and sensory overload. Simon has become so comfortable at talking in front of a group of people that he is now able to tailor his presentation to suit a number of different audiences. This has also led to Simon being approached by external organisations who ask him to present to their staff or at national conferences around the country. An example of this is the National Autism Show which Simon spoke at in both 2014 and 2015.
If you thought Simon is busy enough as it is, this isn’t his only job at CMG. Simon also spends 4 hours a week working on reception at our Head Office. Simon shares this role with a number of other people who we support and who live in services local to Leatherhead. At first Simon undertook the role on a voluntary basis, working just 2 hours a week, and he was always supported by another member of staff as he did not feel confident enough to be by himself. It didn’t take long, however, for Simon’s self-belief to greatly improve and now he really enjoys the responsibility of working by himself on the front desk, answering the phone and being the first port of call for questions from staff across the company.
For Simon, moving into a Supported Living service for the first time and then starting a paid job role within the space of half a year was quite a “shock to the system”. Learning how to manage his money was particularly difficult at first due to the high level of residential support he received at his previous placement. Now, however, Simon is 95% independent in the community and lives a very busy lifestyle, regularly attending the cinema and meeting up with friends.
This is a fantastic example of how encouraging the people we support to become more integrated into the local community and to secure work opportunities can have a fantastic impact on their long term wellbeing.