Best Practice Awards 2021

Best Practice Awards 2021

Our 2021 Awards were presented at our annual conference in Brighton on 9 November. We'd like to congratulate the winners and those who were highly commended. Thank you to everyone who submitted a nomination.


Team of the Year

Sponsored by Discovery

Winners: Southampton City Council Employment Support Team

Southampton City Council’s Employment Support Team celebrated its 30th year in 2020. In the last 30 years, they have worked with over 10,000 disadvantaged and disabled clients, with a zero-exclusion philosophy. The team philosophy “Anyone can work regardless of their disadvantage or disability, as long as it is the right time for them, the right support is in place and it’s the right opportunity”. They use co-production and customer feedback to make sure that happens.

They’ve expanded the customer groups served, including new perinatal mental health employment support. Employers are seen as key stakeholders and customers of the service.

In 2020 the team rose to one of its biggest challenges by supporting individuals hardest hit by COVID. As well as maintaining their Matrix-accredited employment support service, the team adapted the service and embraced the opportunity to include virtual delivery ensuring that all clients maintained their ability to make informed choices and decisions. Every client received welfare calls. They made welfare calls to those shielding on NHS lists, distributed food parcels and took calls on the Community Support Helpline, all whilst maintaining the service to clients still seeking employment.

The team established a virtual Work Club and this has been extended through local libraries. They’ve made extensive use of social media and online resources.  And last year organised a virtual jobs fair. They’ve organised a multi-agency Young Adults Employment Hub and the digital hub has engaged with 178 young people, with 139 moving into work. In addition, they’ve supported 82 young people into work.

They’ve used strong leadership and well-trained staff to deliver a quality service to the people of Southampton. The team wants the service to be the best service it can be and the judging panel felt they strongly deserve the award of Team of the Year.


Highly Commended: Kensington & Chelsea IPS Team (Central and NW London NHS Foundation Trust)

The CNWL Kensington & Chelsea team works closely with community mental health teams to support recruitment and job retention. During 2020-21, the team achieved 41 paid job outcomes across Kensington and Chelsea. They’ve worked with a wide range of partner organisations, established mental health employment groups and engaged with many community networks. They’ve supported the digital inclusion of their clients and tackled isolation through peer support meetings.

94% of respondents rated the service as Excellent or Good. Here’s one client’s story:

“Prior to joining the Employment Service I was feeling hopeless, sad and had no motivation. I was bullied at work which made me feel stressed and made me harm myself. My Social Worker thought I would need support from the Employment Service and I started working with the Employment Team in January 2020. The support, advice and suggestions I received has been very beneficial. The Team Leader has been very helpful and I can see the positive results now. My manager is not micromanaging me anymore, everyone is quite supportive at work and I even received a commendation about my work from one of our senior managers! I feel confident to resolve challenges independently in the future.”

The team now has a renewed focus on employer engagement and service quality. Their work is recognised and valued across the Trust’s mental health services and is making an impact across the local community. 


Highly Commended: Optalis

The Supported Employment Service team at Optalis has consistently delivered exceptional results for customers in Wokingham and surrounding areas within Berkshire, being the top-rated ASCOF service in the South East for people with learning disabilities in paid employment for the last two years. Under the extraordinarily-committed and professional leadership of Donna Morgans, the team lives and breathes their determination to help individuals progress towards their career goals, leading to an excellent outcome-driven service that puts the people they support at the very centre. Despite the Covid pandemic, the service coached and trained 108 people in the last year, with 64.8% securing paid employment.

The team’s Ace@Optalis employment course, launched in September 2014, in partnership with Reading College has delivered consistently excellent results. It continues to grow each year, with Bracknell and Wokingham College becoming a new partner in 2020. Despite Covid, 18 people completed the programme this year, resulting in 25 job interviews and 13 job offers.

The Optalis service collaborates with over 90 employers and businesses, promoting their clients’ skills and abilities, enabling employers to see the benefits of diversifying their workforce through hiring someone in the service, and helping employers to make reasonable adjustments for a more inclusive workplace.

In 2020, Optalis became a delivery partner in the Recovery Colleges for both Wokingham and Bracknell, providing employment workshops for people living with mental health conditions. Their new Ability Travel training launched the same year, in partnership with Network Rail, South Western Railway and Reading Buses.

Donna has built a team that is highly professional, innovative, and flexible in its approach.


Practitioner of the Year

Sponsored by EADS, North Northamptonshire Council

Winner: Neil Bowman (Realise Futures)

Neil Bowman has been with Realise Futures since 2015 and has proven himself to be an effective Employment Advisor securing hundreds of jobs for participants with LD, autism, and other disabilities over the years. Neil has always achieved his targets and in the past year, despite the restrictions of the pandemic, has secured 31 jobs for his participants.

We received a letter from a parent in support of Neil’s nomination. She’s the mother of Thomas, a 22-year old with a range of complex neurological development issues. Life has never been easy for Thomas and at times very painful. Whilst at school and college he battled very severe critical illness. Thomas is however incredibly resilient and never gives up. 

She wanted to tell us what an amazing job Neil did for Thomas. He really didn't leave any stone unturned to find Thomas a position. He contacted every accountancy practise within 20 miles of Thomas’ home. He also used his network of business contacts and also used Facebook, Linkedin, the Princes Trust, and various MPs.

Thomas was given an interview with an accountancy firm late last year and sadly, despite good interview feedback, didn't get the position. Neil to his credit never gave up and carried on building relationships with the people at the company. He asked whether they would take Thomas as an unpaid intern to enable him to gain more experience and eventually in November 2020 they agreed to one month's trial and the possibility of a full-time role if it went well. Thomas started his permanent position on 4 January. Thomas couldn't be happier and his confidence is growing. Neil with his commitment positivity and hard work has played an enormous part in making Thomas feel as he does.

Neil has clearly built excellent relationships with his participants, their parent/carers and with employers - always going above and beyond to support.


Highly Commended: Carline Ikoroha (West Lea School, Edmonton)

Carline Ikoroha has worked in the Supported Employment industry for 4 years now as a Senior Job Coach at West Lea School. She is an incredible leader of her Supported Internships team and is able to inspire and motivate others. This has been an incredibly challenging year for everyone but Carline has been particularly hit hard. Nevertheless, out of pure professionalism and passion for her work she continues to work incredibly hard and keeps carrying on despite everything.

She has been dedicated and steadfast in her belief that all of the Supported Interns deserve their chance and she’s worked tirelessly to make this happen for them. She’s fought their corner and advocated for them when things were not going well. She’s worked closely with employers to set clear expectations for both them and their Intern and works collaboratively to ensure that her Interns have reasonable adjustments in place and are supported appropriately.

She breaks down the barriers of learned helplessness and encourages her Interns to be independent in every respect while supporting parental involvement. West Lea expects for about 80% of our Interns to gain employment this year and this is largely down to Carline’s inspirational leadership. During her time at West Lea she has supported over 80 Interns to gain valuable skills and experience. 62 young people have been offered meaningful work.


Best Employer Practice

Sponsored by the Millwood Servicing Ltd

Winner: DPD Group

DPD Group, as a Disability Confident Employer and a Valuable 500 member, delivers inclusion partly through its ‘DPD Inspire’ programme.

Since 2018 they have invested £250,000 into supporting people with disabilities. DPD works closely with recruitment specialists and local authorities to attract disabled job seekers and offer them an opportunity to thrive in the workplace. DPD Group uses work experience, Supported Internships and Inclusive Apprenticeships to create clear progression paths to substantive posts.

Their Inspire team has supported ten young people to embrace life post-25 years old and supported them in achieving paid work and gaining independence as adults. In addition, DPD works with local schools and colleges to improve their careers curriculum and ensure young people with disabilities have as many opportunities as any other student.

They have a dedicated Supported Employment team, integrated within their HR Department, to provide support and the initiative is championed at senior management levels.

More employers are now seeking to mainstream the idea of inclusive recruitment and the judges were particularly impressed by DPD’s corporate approach. They will be presenting their learning to employers across Europe later this month.

Liam Finnegan, Google Workspace Manager, typifies DPD management’s attitude to Inspire: “Our Inspire programme opens up a new world of untapped talent for DPD to explore. The Apprentice I worked with has opened my eyes to the potential of people with SEND, when given a chance to showcase their skills and when measured against their talents, rather than perceived differences. Luke adds a different view to our projects, brings his own unique skills to the group and contributes in a meaningful way every day.”


Highly Commended: The Spicery, Bristol

The Spicery is an independent small business in Bristol employing 30 staff and are well-known for mail order spices and recipe kits. 

They’d previously offered a couple of temporary work placements through Mencap and in September 2016 the owner, James Ransome, contacted WorkFit saying he’d like to recruit someone with Down’s syndrome into their workforce. Inspired by memories of the 2012 Paralympics he felt that the business had grown enough to be able to permanently support someone with Down’s syndrome and wanted to offer the opportunity to a young person.

WorkFit introduced Rhys who was 19 at the time and still at college. This would be Rhys’s first experience of paid work and the Spicery staff supported him to travel to work independently.  

Rhys works as part of the production team making a wide range of hand-assembled products, so had to learn quickly to build up his concentration levels and stamina. Over time Rhys has subsequently become much more dextrous, previously impossible tasks are now routine and his concentration levels, stamina and maturity have increased significantly. Rhys has now worked for James for 4½ years and recently moved into his own flat to live independently.

James says, “Having Rhys at work has been life-changing for everyone here as we've all learnt a huge amount by working side by side with him. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend any employer to get involved with Workfit (or any similar organisations) as the wider benefits for your staff and the business as a whole will far outweigh any difficulties you might face"

The judging panel were impressed by the commitment shown by this small independent company and want to commend their excellent practice.


David Grainger Award

Sponsored by Medequip

Winner: Junior Mark Cryle (Loch Fyne Seafood and Grill)

Junior Cryle is truly one of a kind; an extremely conscientious, caring and considerate person. He was referred to United Response in December 2018 and came with extensive employment training and education particularly in the catering sector. Despite this, aged 30, he wasn’t able to secure long term employment.

The traditional ways of job searching and application processes didn’t showcase the best of Junior’s talents, and so all the Job Coaches worked collaboratively to engage employers and identify skills gaps within restaurant businesses in York. They succeeded in matching Junior to an appropriate opportunity within Loch Fyne’s front of house. Following a work trial, Junior was offered a part time paid position. 

The judges were particularly impressed by how Junior grasped his opportunity and has made the most of it to become a great asset to his employer.

His employer tells of how they provided him with the work trial and from there noticed how much potential he had. “Over the years, Junior has become such an asset to our team and is much loved by local and new customers. He’d do anything to help us out, and has become a very proficient and confident food runner. He’s happy to take on new tasks with the right direction and we honestly can’t afford to lose him.”

Junior’s also a budding writer, sharing his journey to employment in print. He says, “the manager of Loch Fyne gave me a chance that others didn’t, purely on the grounds that, after seeing me in action, I could do the job. Through the rest of the team, I soon learned what was expected of me and was eager to help out when able to. The teamwork that I’ve experienced has brought us to the end of each day, with a smile on my face, especially through the lockdowns. I am eternally grateful, to Loch Fyne who gave me a chance that nowhere else would, and to United Response who made it possible.”

You can view Junior Mark Cryle's acceptance speech on Youtube.


Highly commended: Angus Addenbrooke (Developer Society)

Angus works as an Office Administrator at The Developer Society, a non-for-profit digital agency that uses technology to make the world a better place. Angus has been in post over two years and is a well-respected and highly valued member of the team.

Angus is passionate advocate for the rights of people with learning disabilities and creating more inclusive working practices. A core part of Angus’ role at The Developer Society supports the ambitions of digital accessibility, in which he tests websites for accessible content. Angus’ role is foundational to creating a more accessible internet and he critically assesses websites to ensure they are accessible for all.

Angus demonstrated his adaptability and resilience during lockdown when working from home, showing a strong commitment to embracing the additional technology and adapting to the change. He regularly exceeds his work targets and has received the employee of the month award twice. He’s carried out consultancy work with several organisations based on his attention to detail and insightful assessments.

Angus deserves this commendation for his dedication to advocating for and developing more inclusive working practices and a digital world that is more accessible for all.


Highly Commended: Claire Atkinson (Discovery)

Claire joined Discovery in 2018 and soon became the administrative backbone of the service. Her keen attention to detail and her understanding of excel databases blew the team away. 

Claire progressed to the role of Supported Employment Co-ordinator this year and felt it was her chance to make a real difference in people’s lives. She uses Brain in hand to manage her own anxiety and organisation and Discovery allocated a team member who mentors her when processing new challenges.

She’s methodical, organised and a strong member of the team. She also speaks her mind and is always happy to contribute her opinion and ideas if they’re requested. Claire’s also not afraid to say she got it wrong or that she could have done something differently. She looks at the bigger picture and not just what is presented to her.

Claire’s colleagues say that she’s “been an inspiration since joining the team; sharing her knowledge, experiences and most of all reflects on what’s gone well and what could be done better. She makes us look at approaches in a different way, giving some scenarios of situations. Some of these things I had never thought of.”


Learner of the Year

Sponsored by BASE

Winner: Deborah Reeves (Swindon Council)

Deborah works for the service in Swindon Council delivering the Building Better Opportunities project in partnership with other community and voluntary sector organisations across Wiltshire and Swindon.  She joined the course as someone completely new to the supported employment sector and her classroom learning was disrupted with the pandemic.  

Deborah was diagnosed with respiratory problems at an early age where she missed quite a bit of school. She left education in her teens after some very negative experiences.

Deborah missed some of the group learning days on the course because she developed long-Covid but she methodically watched the recordings of the training and then worked through the evidence she needed to produce for her portfolio.

She began to use all the tools and techniques she was given with the course and she found it helped her to bring better life and employment outcomes for those she was supporting. Her enthusiasm for her job and commitment to her participants has shone through. She has shown grit and determination to battle covid and succeed in the course. She has shown great resilience and thoroughly deserves this award.