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During learning disability week (19-25 June) Airedale NHS Foundation Trust is celebrating the success story of its internship programme for students with learning disabilities.

The aim is to show the incredible things that people with a learning disability achieve, smashing misconceptions about what people can do and shining a light on the stigma many still face every day.

Fifi Fawcett from Cullingworth, is a student on the internship programme at Keighley College and is working in the ‘Friendly Coffee Shop’ at Airedale hospital.

A supported internship is a type of study programme for young people aged 16–24 that have an Education, Health and Care Plan. The internship lasts for between six months and a year and is flexible to suit the young person and the employer. The students spend up to two days at work and have a job coach who liaises with staff, students and their parents and college and carries out regular reviews on their progress.

21 year old Fifi joined Keighley College from Titus Salt school and was interested in working in a job where she could serve customers, fill stock and use the tills, so working in the busy hospital shop was a great fit.  Fifi works one day a week and is supported by her job coach at Keighley College Trina Smith.

Trina explains the difference she sees in students during their placements:

“Fifi is much more confident to speak to new people now and it’s helping her gain fantastic workplace skills and she will now have work references too.”

For any employer thinking about offering an internship Trina offers this advice:

“It’s great for diversifying their workforce and offering opportunities to people with learning difficulties.  They have so many skills to offer and they have so many things they can do.  I think we often look at what they can’t do when there are so many things they can do.

People don’t seem to realise how easy it is to make adjustments to make the role accessible.  It doesn’t take spending a lot of money, it can be something really small and simple. Fifi has a stylus pen so she can use the till and a chair so she can sit down as she gets tired quickly.  It’s just small adjustments so everyone can access the workplace. People often think it’s going to be a lot of red tape and they’ll need to make a lot of modifications to their business when that’s not always the case.

The employer also gets the support of a jobs coach, who goes in and has the initial discussions with the employer and then they go and support the young person in the workplace.  The aim is to reduce the support so by the end of it they are there on their own as if they were just another member of staff.”

Fifi says she would encourage anyone to try the programme and has this advice for any new interns:

“I’d say just go for it, I really enjoy it.”

Izzy Allsopp, Mobility Services Manager and Internship Lead at Airedale NHS Foundation Trust says:

“When they first come we ask our interns about their aspirations, their career goals and hobbies, what they like doing best and then we try and match their workplace experience around that”.

“This scheme really gives an invaluable opportunity for young people to learn workability skills and to develop, and we get a huge sense of pride in watching them grow in ability and confidence. The interns are always a pleasure to have as part of our teams, their commitment, energy and enthusiasm is fantastic.”

Izzy continues:

“As one of the biggest local employers we’re socially responsible to help shape the opportunities available to under-represented people in our community.  It also helps us ensure we’re building diversity and really demonstrating our commitment to developing an inclusive and representative workforce.”

The interns and Keighley College have also created a video to share their experiences and it  features Siddeqa Din, who started on the internship and now has a permanent job at Airedale Hospital in the Therapies team.

Keighley College have 7 students on the internship programme this year and one is employed full time at Acorn Stairlifts.  There are also 3 students who will be full interns next year and they hope to have a place at a local fast food business, the maintenance team at Airedale Hospital and a phone repair shop.

For more information on the programme contact Emma Rich on 01535 685095 or email