SuitAbility 2013, sponsored by Network Rail, was held on Thursday 28th March 2013 at Sutton Life Centre. We aimed to highlight the benefits of employing disabled people to employers, and to provide advice to people with disabilities seeking employment – and we think we succeeded!
We had a fantastic mix of people attending – employers, support organisations, business mentors, training providers and of course people with disabilities. And there were plenty of things to see and do – whether that was discussing options with exhibitors, attending one of the many seminars, making the most of our business mentors or even learning how to play Boccia with Paul Burstow MP!
The day started with a Business Networking Breakfast, where employers discussed how to be “Disability Smart”. Unfortunately, our scheduled speaker for the breakfast had to pull out at the last minute, but luckily Richard Lamplough, one of our seminar speakers, was on hand to save the day and crisis was averted! It was an informative and fun couple of hours, the ‘full English’ set us up for the day and some magic from Theo the Magician was an added bonus!
We and the stallholders had a busy hour or 2 setting up, but by opening time we were all raring to go. Delegates started to arrive and had a bit of time to explore the exhibition before the 1st seminar at 10.30 – and there was plenty to see. We had stallholders from employment support services, volunteer services, training providers, the legal sector, business development services and HR – all there to offer advice to anyone who needed it! We also had our 4 fantastic business mentors – Victoria Pullen, Nicci Bonfanti, Sandra Collins and Stuart Kerslake
During the morning, Sarah & Luke from the Smart Enterprise ran a free training session on the Equality Act 2010 – it tried to challenge some preconceptions about employees with disabilities and helped delegates to understand what is really meant by a ‘reasonable adjustment’.
Richard Lamplough made his 2nd appearance of the day at our first seminar “Finding your natural support into employment”. Richard describes himself as a ‘freelance creative’, who uses his wealth of experience in supporting people with disabilities into employment to produce marketing initiatives which do the same – initiatives such as ‘The South East Employment Network’ and ‘Aspirations for Life’. He and David Mason, a young man with disabilities spoke about how using David’s strengths had enabled him to get a job with Network Rail, to be successful and to progress within the organisation.
Next up was Frank Rodgers, a businessman who has previously managed a Remploy factory. He is passionate about promoting the benefits of employing people with disabilities, and was able to share his positive experiences with other prospective employers.
Amanda Platts, Co-chair of the National Forum for People with Learning Disabilities, was our next speaker. Among her varied national advocacy roles, she has been involved with Job Centre Plus to make sure that the Access to Work grant is accessible to people with learning disabilities, so she was able to give delegates a valuable insight into what can be a confusing system!
Unfortunately, our next scheduled speaker was unwell, so our knights in shining armour, Richard Lamplough and David Mason, stepped into the breach! Their earlier presentation was so popular that we decided to put it on again for people who missed it! Many thanks to both of them for going above & beyond the call of duty to help out!
Throughout the day visitors explored the SuitAbility exhibition, where they met with organisations which support disabled people into employment, such as Queen Elizabeth Foundation, Royal British Legion Industries, HFT and Employability. Also on hand were other agencies that support employers of disabled people, such as Skills for Care and the Training & Recruitment Partnership.
How can I describe our next speaker – Victoria Pullen is a real ‘tour de force’! She is a social media expert, who despite having a number of disabilities, has built a successful business that fits around her conditions, and generates a sizeable income from her passion for social networking. She spoke about her own experiences of setting up her own business, and her knowledge and enthusiasm were an inspiration!
Last, but definitely not least was Jonathon Young, who was given work experience as part of Goldman Sachs’ collaboration with Prospects, offering work experience to people with Asperger’s Syndrome. As a result of the placement, Jonathon was offered permanent employment as an analyst, and his career continues to go from strength to strength. Jonathon’s experiences demonstrate the value that an employee with Asperger’s can bring to an organisation, as well as the benefits of employment to the individual. Jonathon’s story has been featured in the national media, but it was fantastic to hear about it firsthand!
Suitability was very pleased to welcome Paul Burstow MP, ex care service minister, during the afternoon. He spent a few hours talking to delegates and exhibitors and even took part in our Boccia tournament – I’m not sure whether he won though! It was great to hear his views about disability and employment, and we were thrilled to get his support for the event.
As the day came to an end and the stall holders packed up, the seminar rooms fell quiet and the last boccia ball was thrown, we were able to reflect on the day. We think we can sum up by saying that it was a busy, sometimes panicky, often inspirational and ultimately successful day!
Here’s just some of what people said about the event:
“WOW! Is it over already? Brilliant day with one inspiring moment after another.”
“Great event- great chance to share thoughts- moving ideas back to the front of my mind I had forgotten I knew.”
“Fantastic day. Great mix of people, great atmosphere. Looking forward to the next promotion of jobs for disabled people.”
“Great event, met some great people and feel very informed about how disabilities need not be a barrier”
“Very useful and inspirational day – much appreciated.”
“A very thought provoking day, with a wide variety of speakers- informative and empowering!”
The Smart Enterprise would like thank everyone involved in making the event such a success.
To keep you going while we wait for SuitAbility 2014 we produced a video of advice for Disabled Job Seekers – Enjoy and Share!