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Excitement and hopeful anticipation for adults with learning disabilities at Interestingly Different

The award-winning service for adults with disabilities, Nickel Support, and their unique retail project, Interestingly Different, have started a brand new, revolutionary and bespoke retail training programme in order to address the shocking situation around employment opportunities and support for adults with learning disabilities and Autism. 

Meet Charlie. Charlie is an amazing young woman with not only a smile for everyone she meets, but she also has a huge amount of potential, with a strong drive to work and have a purpose. However, Charlie also has a learning disability – which means that her ambition and goals are often met by hurdles and challenges. When Charlie started attending Nickel Support 9 years ago she struggled with confidence in communicating, and lacked support to achieve her potential. Throughout her time at Nickel Support, Charlie has grown in confidence and in her self belief, and has proven just how much adults with learning disabilities can achieve when they are given the chance to shine. She is now one of the trainees who is in paid employment at Interestingly Different, which forms the retail branch of Nickel Support. 

Interestingly Different re-launched in 2023 opening their beautiful shop in Carshalton and introducing their online shop. They are a gift and homeware store with a difference – selling an incredible selection of high quality gifts, homewares, gift boxes and corporate gifting options from more than 30 social enterprises. However, Interestingly Different’s core goal is to provide training and employment opportunities for their trainees, all of whom have faced the same hurdles and barriers as Charlie, and to enable them to lead a purposeful and fulfilled life. 

Since the re-launch, the team realised more needed to be done to provide training and employment opportunities – especially as government initiatives such as the Access to Work scheme, have lengthy, climbing waiting lists. Hence they set about creating an adaptable training programme to ensure that trainees gain necessary skills for employment. The programme was created in-house, and incorporates a variety of visual, written and audio materials in order to break down the barriers seen in mainstream training. It is delivered on a one-to-one basis, by trained Support Workers who not only understand learning disabilities, but who get to know each trainee, meaning they can tailor the training to their individual needs. 

The training course has been set up with a true sense of urgency, as the employment situation for adults with learning disabilities and autism is shocking. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions recently comissioned The Buckland Review, in order to identify the barriers to autistic people securing and fulfilling employment. Published in February 2024, the report found that  “despite their wish to work, the latest official statistics show that only around 3 in 10 working age autistic disabled people are in employment.” And worse yet, we know from other sources that only 5.1% of adults with all types of learning disabilities in England are in paid work. 

The Buckland Review found what Nick Walsh and Elena Nicola, co-founders of Nickel Support have long known – there is a wide range of potential barriers to work for autistic people [the same applies to people with any learning disability]. Even after finding work, maintaining long-term employment remains a challenge. Many do not receive the necessary support or adjustments to enable them to fulfil their role in the face of inaccessible sensory and social environments. 

The current reality is sad and shocking, but Nickel Support and Interestingly Different are proud to see a positive impact even in the early stages of this project. When asked how she feels about the new training programme, Charlie commented, “The training I’ve already had has given me the self belief and confidence to work. I used to find it hard talking to customers, but now I feel confident to do that.  I am excited to start the new training programme because I think it is going to help me and the other trainees to learn new valuable skills”. There are currently five Interestingly Different trainees in paid employment, a number they intend to increase as they roll out the training programme. 

Seeing Interestingly Different trainees embark upon their training is truly a wonderful thing – you can really sense that this is a place where they are valued, and are being equipped with vital skills for the workplace. Elena Nicola, says, “Seeing the trainees being given the opportunity to expand their knowledge, gain skills and move on to potential employment is so exciting, especially when all the evidence, and our first hand experience, shows that this is not something that is currently happening regularly in society. Sadly our story should not be news, but currently what we are doing really isn’t the norm. We eagerly look forward to the day when it is, and will not stop working to achieve that.” 

Interestingly Different sources and sells a wide range of products from over 33 other UK based social enterprises, all of whom are working with adults with disabilities or facing life challenges. 

Interestingly Different is open Monday – Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and their  website, not only sells their full product range, but also offers a fantastic insight to the work that they do. They also work with corporate clients providing monthly subscriptions of office supplies such as tea and coffee, alongside making gift hampers for staff and clients. Each and every purchase helps towards the greater goal of an inclusive society where adults with disabilities are able to meet their potential and live a purposeful and fulfilled life. Interestingly Different was one of the Small Biz Saturday’s top 100 small businesses in the UK in 2023, and has since also been named as one of Theo Paphitis’s Small Business Sunday Winners.