Podcast Episode 40. Everyone needs a Shed – a place to go, to be. But this Shed is much more than that,it is a space for people with additional needs to build independence and work skills and engage with their local community.
On this week’s Podcast we hear from Clive Harris, the founder of The Shed. The Shed provides a community-based education and training service to help adults with additional needs develop their independent living skills. The Shed also offers a range of clubs and events for people to build social skills.
Clive explains how, when The Shed began, he wanted a location that was in the middle of the local community so it became entwined with the community. Thus, it would become part of a broader, educational environment where everybody in the community learns about the people they support, and the people they support learn about the community they live in.
One of the primary goals of The Shed is to help adults with additional needs find employment. The Shed has a shop selling upcycled furniture. The students run the shop, manage the finance and administration, deal with customers and attend auctions to choose the items they’ll work on for resale in the shop.
Another training program focuses on independent living. The Shed has its own purpose built living spaces, specially designed to support the development of essential life skills, such as preparing healthy meals, shopping and budgeting and safety and security.
For anyone wanting to start a similar enterprise within their local community, Clive offers some advice on who to speak to and the importance of getting the right advice if you want your program to succeed.
The Shed is changing people’s perceptions in a local community, and showing just what people with additional needs can do when they are given the right opportunities and the support.Show Full Transcript
DEBRA: Welcome to episode 40 of the Journey Skills podcast. This episode we are in the shed. Like a lot of sheds, this shed is a place to create stuff, in this case, opportunities. I’m talking to Clive Harris who started The Shed 3 years ago with the aim of helping people with additional needs continue to develop their skills. While the motivation for starting the Shed that Clive talks about, is how he wanted to do things differently and not just provide, what he terms, daycare. Now this can be a controversial area but I think it’s important to talk about what we want for our young people and the expectations that we should have.
One of the reasons this podcast even exist is because when we started to think about our daughter’s future and had a look around at what was available for her, there was an awful lot out there that we didn’t think will help her achieve the independent future we want for her and she wants for herself. But of course now if you’re a regular listener, you know that there is actually quite a lot of choices out there and so many people doing amazing work, fantastic projects that are as far away from daycare is it’s possible to get.
One of the key things about The Shed is its community-based. Clive talks about getting in people’s faces and I guess that sounds a bit over the top but actually what I know now is that changing perceptions requires people face their fears. We’re all guilty of having certain assumptions and also stereotypes and having been to The Shed to talk to Clive, it certainly does the job of changing perceptions certainly within that local community.
I think one of the main benefits of my conversation with Clive was learning how a startup could work. Clive has a taken an idea, made it a reality, made it part of the community and provide a real bridge for people with additional needs. To find work, live independently, being ethical and most importantly, be viewed as a contributor to their local community. It’s an awful a lot to admire about what The Shed does and I’ve no doubt I will be taking Clive up in his offer in the future when it comes to advice about how to help my daughter when she’s older.
DEBRA: This week I’m talking to Clive Harris who is the founder of The Shed which is based in Hythe in Kent in the UK. Welcome, Clive!
CLIVE: Thank you, Debra.
DEBRA: Can you tell me a little bit about The Shed, how it got started, a little bit about yourself as well?
CLIVE: Well, The Shed is an education service center for adults with learning disabilities from 18 upwards. It really started three years ago, I set it up three years ago as a direct kind of result of having worked in the system for all my life really since the early nineties going through further education into the private sector and then one day I decided that it really wasn’t done being done well enough and so I started The Shed to really bridge that gap and that need where people wanted more.
People could called the Shed in the old days (and when I said the old days really up until the sort of early 90s early 2000s) a daycare center but I really hope that terminology, I don’t like that description of our service because it’s not a daycare center because people still have that idea in their heads, that perception that what daycare centers do is really limiting our activity that almost just babysit individuals. You know, it’s probably not fair to say across all services but unfortunately this is the understanding that I’ve experienced. And of course, people with a learning disabilities have all kinds of needs and abilities and as well as disabilities and it’s those things that we have to address.
And so The Shed was purposely set up to address those things by putting in place meaningful, engaging activity that not only meets needs in terms of social development often behavioral development but employability skills and just for general well-being. We started with zero students, we now have in excess of 75 about 10 across the week on any given day between 20 and 25 individuals attend our service and those individuals didn’t know each other before they came to The Shed. It’s a meeting place of friends and first and foremost, that’s the most important aim to actually introduce people together and sort of almost form a community within a community.
I mean The Shed is directly in the community. It’s right in the face of Hythe Town Center. That was done deliberately because again daycare centers almost always blurry type setups at a site operation as well. I want The Shed to be in your face and I want the community to become part of The Shed and The Shed become part of the community. And I think we’ve done and in by doing that, you change people’s attitudes.
We have the public come in and see us every day and they leave with a different perspective, almost a slightly shocked if you like that what they’re seeing is nearly not what they’ve brought up to understand. That’s really no one’s fault, it’s just by productive people’s education about these things. The Shed really has achieved so many more things than just being a center for people to come and do things. It’s actually become part of wider education or environment where everybody is learning about the people we support and the people we support about the community they live in.
DEBRA: What was some of the challenges, you said you started up 3 years ago, what were some of the challenges when you first started or how did you go through the process of starting it up really?
CLIVE: I had the advantage that I had already managed lots of provision for people with learning disabilities and then I was asked by a large care organization to kind of modernize their own daycare services. And by doing that, it taught me lot about funding agencies and about the structure of things and people that you talked to, and commissioning services and all the various sort of people that you had to connect with them and work with to make this happen.
But even so finding an establishment that was fit for purpose – had the disability access, had the right space, had the lights and all the environment that enabled sort of learning to take place. There’s a great American therapist, Paul Rodgers and he says that we can’t make learning happen, we can only provide the right environment and then learning will take place. We are in a fate of facilitators of learning and that’s always very much sort of a driver for me to ensure that we’ve got the right environment. That is a major challenge. Finding somewhere that was local in the town was in people’s faces was affordable, I then had to go the planning and all there is consent to run a center. I have to say that a lot thing that could have gone wrong, The Shed was fairly easy to set up.
DEBRA: What kind of activities do you focus on then? You mentioned there are 2 sides; there is social side and the employability. Going a little more about the employability side, I guess, because that’s something that particularly interests me in terms of independence.
CLIVE: Employability and finding employment for adults with learning disabilities always been a huge challenge and remains a huge challenge. I think statistics is something like 1 or 2% with individuals with learning disabilities will find employment. Obviously, depending on their needs and their abilities but a huge thing for the Shed was to address that and do what it can do to increase the chances of someone finding an employment, part-time employment, some full of employment. So that was our agenda to address that which is why last year we opened a shop called The Workshop and in that shop we upcycle furniture, we make furniture, we upholster, we do kinds of things that enable us to run a fully-functioning shop and teach skills in retail customer service that will improve the chances of somebody gain an employment.
We run a national accreditation system so people can get accredited and get certifications and things associated with employment so that they can have a CV and to show that we do all the interview skills training and CV writing to run alongside the skills they learned in the shop. They run the whole stock and take care of goods, they do all the pricing up, they do with all the money in the register systems. They keep all the records, they deal with the customers, they arrange the deliveries, they go to the auctions and choose the items. They do everything themselves and the shop is well-supported.
DEBRA: Is the plan to try to expand that more so you can obviously help more people or is it to look it out other businesses you might go into?
CLIVE: Since starting the shop, we’ve realized that there’s so much more that we can do to increase those employment opportunities for people including working with other businesses and we’ve got a whole online opportunity which we’re looking at now. The guys are looking into all of that. There’s lots of opportunity still to increase what we’re doing here. That’s something we’ll work with the guys on.
DEBRA: Have you found the line of businesses the being receptive? Because I think you were talking before about changing attitudes and obviously working with businesses will help change attitudes towards the employability skills of someone. You found them supportive?
CLIVE: For a much side, there are 2 or 3 in the High Street that are incredibly supportive and upcycled furniture that we’ve done. They’ll have in their shops and they sell it for us. To be fair, there’s not a huge range of shops in the High Street suitable for what we sell but those that are have been very welcoming in taking our goods and working with us. We’ve demonstrated that we can work with other businesses and we hope to take that market further.
DEBRA: You mean open shops or do you mean just supply?
CLIVE: I think both. We’ve proven that we can work with supplies and retailers so we’re probably look at that market first that then opens more job opportunities.
DEBRA: What some of the other independent skills that you work on?
CLIVE: Everything’s about promoting independence from painting projects and people choosing in their own paint, coming up with the ideas of projects themselves and knowing where all the equipment is and really taking charge of their own learning, right through to running the shop, being in charge of everything that goes on there. Right through to our latest development where we’ve got 2 flats where people attend to really look at become more independent in their own homes, in their own lives. Really right across the board from individuals that say postilion residential care and perhaps will never move out of residential care but concernly become far more independent within their own care home environment. Those thousands of individuals but there’s also those that can quickly move from residential care into semi supported living even those that can move into their own homes and become fully independent with minimal support.
So the flats were set up to support those transitions really. At whatever stage of an individual’s lives they are on, they can be much more independent for themselves and take charge of their lives. That initiative was set up to help all of those guys and that’s working really well. We have in excess of 25-30 individuals that are accessing those projects right now. That shows that they can plan and prepare healthy meals, budgeting, understand the difference of shopping around. We help them to look at health and safety within the home, security, food, and hygiene and all kinds of things that will really teach them the skills to really look after themselves.
DEBRA: You were talking before about the olden days and I’m just wondering now when you talk about all these skills that people need to be taught, why are we needing to do this when people are 18 plus? Why hasn’t it been done earlier?
CLIVE: Again one of the reasons I set up The Shed because there was this cliff edge effect where people would go through education up to the age of 19, 21 and there’d be nothing for a person with learning disabilities to progress on to. All that learning would be undone. There just wasn’t this belief that it should be carried on because people move in to some care homes and things were done for them. We’ve all seen sort of someone with learning disabilities in a supermarket perhaps with their parents and really not doing very much. I think they are the product of an age gone by. I think in the next sort of few years, if not now, you’ll see individuals shopping for themselves.
That whole philosophy has changed and is very much about creating services that promote independence and enable them, getting people to do more for themselves. I think we will see more and more of that. The Shed is working with the schools as a sort of transitions service so that when people leave school, they have somewhere to progress on to. That’s just as geared towards their continuing education and that’s the big difference between The Shed as an education service and the old daycare center because the type of skills learned in those two environments are so very different. One is mapped to the education that they have and continue to have which is The Shed whereas before they leave school and they’d be in this cliff edge effect where they wouldn’t continue to learn most things anymore. And I hope The Shed helps and can help as a sort of a model. We continue to develop and establish ourselves into something even better.
DEBRA: You mentioned before about being in the community and being in (you said) people’s faces, how do you think that helps change perceptions then?
CLIVE: You know you have to understand people’s prior knowledge and their level of understanding before they come in to The Shed. People will come and say “I didn’t realize he could do that” and of course, your immediate thing is “What did you think he could do”. Now you probably have no idea anyway. A general perception that people have but nevertheless that the fact that whatever they knew it’s been changed whether before they knew it’s been changed by what they’ve seen.
People come in and just the general feedback we get all of the time is just help engage in how involved they are. We only have to walk up the High Street and businesses. They know our guys by name. You know, it really is a sense of community now. A social isolation ia another major aim for The Shed to tackle. You won’t believe how many individuals are socially excluded because of fear towards the people of learning disabilities but also, there’s just there’s a lack of services where people can go and meet friends and do things so the Shed does its best to try and address that.
The Shed runs from 10 to 4 but then we’ll do evening activities, we can stack because obviously that’s life and you know normal life means that we have things to do in the evening and places to go at the weekend and so we want to create those opportunities for people as well, you know have weekly discos, we have poll nights, we do trip. We’ll plan events and we’ll work with our guys, we’ve got a sort of a focused group, a representative group and then they’ll tell us what they want us to do and we’ve also started a charity called The Shed Foundation and the charity is all about addressing the social needs of individuals with learning disabilities over and above what The Shed does during the day. The Shed Foundation raises money to support individuals outside of those times so that they don’t have to pay anything to attend, it’s all free. The Shed Foundation was started a year and a half ago. We’ve raised so far nearly £10,000 and we just want to run a series of evening and weekend things that are ongoing that really cost nothing at all to attend. And then, of course, they are meeting their friends and making new friends, extending their personal network of friends beyond The Shed.
DEBRA: What other plans do you have for the future?
CLIVE: We’ve made our mark in Hythe, we’ve got The Shed, we’ve got The Workshop, we’ve got two flats so we were able to really look at developing people’s independence and employability but for each of those things, we need to do more The Shed foundation, we’ll continue to provide support not just the people at The Shed, it’s an open charity where anyone can attend. But there are other areas that need something like The Shed. I’ve got couple of towns in mind which could really do with The Shed. But ultimately, I hope people listen to the podcast and think we could be doing something very similar to the Shed.
DEBRA: What are your tips for someone trying to do something similar also similar enterprise in their local area?
CLIVE: I think they need to speak to care management teams within their local councils, get advice. If I have a passion to do something like this then getting in touch with other services that have done it because we can really point you in the right directions of what people looking for particularly what care management teams want. They’re crucial to be involved and they are the ones that are funding you so you really have to be aware of lots of suppliers in setting up a successful service. You can’t do it just on your own. You need your own support behind you and you need people to really support what you’re doing.
DEBRA: So I read that people can contact you for?
CLIVE: To contact me? Yeah. I’m more than happy to point people in the right direction and kind of teach them what I’ve learned so far, yeah, not a problem.
DEBRA: Thank you very much for your time, Clive.
CLIVE: Thank you, Debra.
DEBRA: Key takeaways? Perceptions are changing in society and expectations are also changing among parents and their children. Starting up something like The Shed is possible. It won’t be easy but there is support out there for people who have done it before you.
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