Robert’s Weekly Column – 30th May 2018

According to the latest figures released by Mencap, there are 1.4 million people here in the UK with a learning disability. Historically, there has always been a significant gap between the proportion of disabled people in work compared with non-disabled people, yet, people with disabilities make great workers. Everybody should have the chance to succeed in their chosen career and having a disability should not prevent that. Evidence suggests that employees with a learning disability stay with one employer for a longer time and take less time off work.

I have joined forces with the Building Bridges programme to encourage more local employers to recruit people with learning disabilities. The programme, which is jointly funded by the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund, covers Swindon and Wiltshire and is a partnership of 40 local cross-sector organisations, including Swindon Borough Council.

Building Bridges work with people on a one to one basis to help them address the challenges and barriers they are facing and develop a personalised plan to help them achieve their goals at a pace they are comfortable with. Each participant is assigned someone who works with them as a mentor, helping them to access support from across the partnership. These mentors can also work with family members, carers and key workers.

Swindon and Wiltshire has a wealth of people with valuable skills, abilities and potential who are being overlooked because employers are focusing on the barriers they face rather than the skills and attributes they could bring to the workplace. The Building Bridges programme is working to change this by offering free support to local employers. This includes explorative employment/ work experience discussions, face to face meetings to better understand business requirements, introductions to appropriate candidates, practical support with any agreed reasonable adjustments, HR advice with access to specialist support agencies and support and guidance in becoming certified in employer recognition schemes.

I am holding an Employment Engagement Event along with Building Bridges on Friday, 29th June from 10.00am – 12noon. The event will be held in the Sir Daniel Gooch Theatre at STEAM museum. Pluss, a Social Enterprise that supports thousands of people with disabilities each year to find work and achieve a career will also be at the event, along with Disability Experts, a local community interest company who support people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to live as independently as possible.

If you are a local employer, large or small and you would like to attend this event or find out more about Building Bridges, please get in touch by emailing

Following on from the success of Mental Health Awareness Week, I am pleased that Jackie Doyle-Price MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Mental Health and Inequalities has announced that £15 million in capital funding has been awarded to Crisis Care Concordat partnerships across England to help them improve facilities for supporting people who are vulnerable to, experiencing, or recovering from, a mental health crisis.

As part of this scheme, Swindon Borough Council has been awarded £69,324.00 to develop a service called ‘The Sanctuary’ in conjunction with Avon and Wiltshire Mental Health Partnership Trust and third sector provider, Mind. The service will be available 7 days a week, 365 days a year between 6pm and 1am. It will provide an opportunity for service users to de-escalate away from the situation that might be linked to their crisis, in a nonmedical, community-based, and fit for purpose premises, offering a therapeutic environment and skilled, non-clinical support and help. NHS 111 will provide gatekeeping to the service, ensuring that resources are used effectively as an alternative to attendance at A&E or acute admission to hospital. The need for mental health support services to be close to our local community is clear and I hope that this will be of real benefit