Change100 – Half Way Through!

Two years ago, I was having lunch with a friend in a small café in Voxel and practically turning green with envy. Why? Because she was telling me all about what it was like living and working in central London.
London has always been the dream. That and NYC are at the top of my bucket list of places I want to live in one day, so to be sitting across one of my friends who was living out that dream right then, I could think of nothing cooler. I remember spending the whole journey on my way to see her fantasising about the amazing stories she would tell me about all the places she had been, the people she had met and the things she had done. I don’t think she realised at the time how very inspired I was. So much so that I even wrote down the name of the internship programme that she’d gotten this opportunity through in my phone.

Fast-forward to last week when I met up with the same friend, again in central London, only this time I was the intern. After writing that note in my phone that day in Voxel, I applied for the Change100 Programme earlier this year and was accepted onto the scheme. This is how I came to be working in central London months after I graduated – a dream come true.

Change100

The Change100 Programme is an internship scheme for disabled students and graduates. Their aim is to change the employment landscape for students and graduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions, by offering them paid work experience tailored for their interests and needs. The scheme is run by Leonard Cheshire Disability, a UK charity supporting disabled people in the UK and around the world to fulfil their potential and live the lives they choose. The programme runs for a total of six months, including a three-month internship and three months afterwards when you will receive ongoing support and mentoring.

The application process is designed to give applicants as much experience as possible, while also giving the support and guidance needed for applicants with disabilities. You are required to submit an application, much like a job application, which if accepted will mean that you are invited to an assessment centre. At an assessment day, you are asked to give a short pre-prepared presentation, take part in a group problem solving activity and attend a formal interview. If you are successful at the assessment centre you are accepted onto the programme, which is when the Change100 team will proceed to try to find you the perfect work placement.
They try to match up your skills, interests and preferences with a bank of internship placements available that have already been submitted to them by employers all over the country. When they think they’ve found you the right fit, they offer the employers to chance to choose an applicant from the programme. This is when you are then told that you’ve been selected by an employer and are given the details of your internship. Its then up to you to negotiate with your employer things like start dates and any adjustments you might want to ask for before starting your placement. The Change100 team also present a disability awareness briefing to your employer, if you are happy for them to do so.
As part of the programme you are given a contact within the Change100 team which you can turn to for any support or advice you might need during your internship, and you’re also invited to attend peer development days once a month which include workshops on topics like managing your disability in the workplace. You are also assigned a mentor within your employer organisation who is there to be your point of contact within the workplace during your placement, as well as providing ongoing support after your placement has finished.

My experience

For the last few weeks, I have been interning at a charitable organisation based in central London working within their conference and programmes team as an assistant. My role is to support the team in organising and running their biggest event of the year, their annual three-day conference. I have been having the best time! My colleagues within the team and the wider organisation have been incredibly welcoming and respectful and I feel like I am getting really valuable experience, I could not have asked for a better placement.

I found the Change100 recruitment process largely positive, only encountering a couple of accessibility issues that the team were happy to work with me to resolve. It’s been such a valuable opportunity for me to practice interview skills and attending an assessment centre, as well as the actual experience of being in a workplace. I am glad I took the chance to push myself out of my comfort zone, completely relocating for the internship and joining an organisation that I knew almost nothing about before I started. I am also working in a field that I had no previous experience in, so that has been a learning curve and interesting as well. The whole programme has been challenging but massively rewarding so far and I am only half way through!

I have found the peer development days really beneficial in terms of receiving support during the internship, as well as getting the chance to meet the other interns on the programme. It just so happens that I found a fellow intern who is doing her placement within an organisation two buildings away from me, so we now meet up for lunch every week to catch up and chat through how our respective placements are going.
I am also benefiting a lot from the mentoring aspect of the programme. Change100 recommend your mentor be someone who is not a directly a member of your team, so that you can have a point of contact within the organisation but who is separate from your immediate day-to-day. Your mentor will also continue supporting you after you’ve finished your placement, doing things like providing career advice or contacts that might be useful for you to get where you want to be. I’m personally finding it really helpful having someone at work who I know I can turn to with questions, but who isn’t a part of my actual team, and I’m also learning a lot from my mentor about how to achieve my personal ambitions and goals when it comes to work.

I would absolutely recommend the Change100 Programme to any students and graduates with disabilities. We all know how difficult it is to find employment these days, without the added barrio of having a disability to content with as well. So any work experience you can get to demonstrate your skills is going to be hugely beneficial, because it will be something you can refer back to in future applications and interviews to demonstrate to prospective employers your capabilities and strengths. That’s what I’m hoping anyway!

I will be writing future posts on my experience applying for Access to Work, the government funded scheme intended to support disabled people in employment, and look out for a Dog Blog coming up all about Jazzy’s perspective getting to grips with our commute.

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Change 100

I’ve been keeping this under my hat for a while now, but some exciting things are soon ahead for Jazzy and I and I’m excited to share them here.

AS you might know, I graduated from University with a 1st in English Literature in 2016. Since then I stayed in the city I studied in, hoping to find work. I would like to work in Communications, doing things like writing press releases, managing social media platforms etc. I’ve had some experience working in the Corporate Communications team of my University while I was studying, but unfortunately haven’t been able to find work in the sector since graduating.

The process of looking and applying for work as someone with a disability is a topic I’ll expand on in another post, but for now I’ll share the fantastic news that I’ve finally gotten an internship for the summer which will hopefully go a long way to helping me into full time employment.

I’ve gained this internship through the Change 100 Programme, a scheme run by Leonard Cheshire Disability aiming to help disabled students and graduates into work by offering internship opportunities and mentorship. It’s a relatively new programme that is gaining success every year, this year partnering with organisations to offer 140 internships to disabled students and graduates around the country. Find out more information about the Change 100 Programme via this link:

https://www.leonardcheshire.org/support-and-information/life-and-work/skills-development/employment-programmes/change100

Undertaking the internship means relocating for Jazzy and I as we’ll be working in London. We’ll be living just outside the capital and commuting in every day, working five days a week for three months. Inevitably it’ll be a big change for both of us and though it sounds a little daunting I’m excited and confident we’ll both take it in our stride.

We’ve already taken steps to ensuring a smooth transition, having mobility and orientation in London and escalator training for Jazzy. It’s important to take my guide dog into account whenever big changes like this are on the horizon. Thankfully Jazzy is an adaptable and confident dog; she is very quick to learn new routes and enjoys doing it so I don’t foresee any problems where she is concerned.

I’ve also had my first experience of applying to Access To Work; a government funded scheme intended to level the playing field for disabled people in work by providing accessibility equipment and support for a disabled person so that they need not depend on their employer for those adaptions. Access to Work has a somewhat mixed reputation and from my experience with them so far, I’m not sure that reputation is unfounded, though my dealings with them are currently ongoing so I’ll update on my experience with them in a later post.

For now, I think that’s as much as I can say at this point. I start my internship in a couple of weeks so I’ll be sure to keep my readers updated with our progress adapting to working in the big city. Until then, wish me luck!

Dog Blog: catching up and celebrations!

Hello! Jazzy here again after quite a long leave of absence. 
I’ve been as unhappy about this lack of Dog Blogs as I’m sure you have, but the only poor excuse the boss has to offer is that final year uni stresses have unfortunately put my posts on the backburner recently. I’m not sure I buy that. I think she’s just jealous of how much more popular my posts are than hers! But never mind, let me catch you up. 
Back in September we returned to Uni for our final year. I’ve come to think of the library as something of a second home and have decided on my favourite spot to sleep under the radiator, graciously accepting any pets or fusses I might receive by passers-by. 
But don’t worry, we’ve done a lot of fun things too. It feels like a long time ago now when the boss and I spent a weekend sightseeing in London with the boss’s family. I think I love the big smoke as much as she does! We did lots of strange but interesting things like go on a Duck Tour, where we sat in a vehicle which one minute was whizzing around the streets of London and the next was cruising along the Thames! 
We visited this bizarre place where there were lots of very still and strange smelling people, the boss and the fam seemed to very much enjoy posing with. I got in a couple of these photos too, naturally. We also spent a lot of time in the air, which I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan of. We went on this great wheel thing that hung in the air and moved! I did not appreciate seeing the ground so far below and stayed well away from the strange glass walls. As I also did when we visited the tallest building I think I’ve ever seen, though I did concede long enough to pose for another picture. I swear more time was spent posing that weekend than anything else!
Not long after, we visited the boss’s sister in another lovely city called Cardiff. I very much liked this place because of the spectacular park I got to run wild in! My boss’s sister is at Uni there, like the boss and I are in Chester. But I much prefer our digs to hers, it was little bigger than a box!
After lots of time in the library again, I got to spend my first Christmas with the boss and her family. This was an absolutely brilliant time! I had the company of my best friend Bella for three weeks, the boss’s baby brothers have even more energy than I do, and oh the food! The boss even had a miniature version of me put in pride of place on the Christmas tree.
The 6th of January was the anniversary of the day I came to live with the boss. We travelled back to Uni and prepared to face more quality library time. The boss was quite concerned for me that month because I’d put on a little holiday weight and I’d acquired a funny lump below my chin. When we visited the vets the boss was told that it could be a tumour, benign or otherwise and had to wait a whole worrisome weekend for the test results. Thankfully the lump turned out to be a benign growth and after a few weeks of steroid cream treatment it disappeared. 
After that, it was back to yet more chilling in the library. All the stresses of Uni work was taking its toll on the boss, but what she didn’t realise was that it was affecting me too. Humans are far less intelligent creatures than we canines, which is why I’m sure it took several weeks for the boss to figure out that the reason I didn’t seem to be myself, not enjoying my work so much and not wanting to play, is because trying to remain up-beat and happy when your boss is so down in the dumps is very hard work. When she finally came to this realisation though I think it might have been the push she needed to talk to someone about how she was feeling. So of course I accompanied her to lots of meetings and appointments where I did my best to make things easier by resting my head on her knee and letting her play with my ears while she talked.
I am pleased to say that the boss now seems to be feeling much better, which of course means that I am happier too. People had told her that I would be very sensitive to her emotions but I don’t think she had fully grasped this until she realised the difference in my demeanour and work when she was feeling low, compared with when she feels happier. She now understands that it is much easier for me to go about my work with my tail wagging when the boss has a smile on her face too. Fortunately I think the experience has brought us closer as a team and the boss tells everyone that she is more pleased with my work than ever. Humans eh?
A few weeks ago the boss and I spent the weekend in Derby with friends and were on our way to go home when we entered into an unfortunate altercation with a taxi driver. It seemed that this driver didn’t want me in his car! Can you believe that? Who could refuse this face?! The boss wrote about our experience so I won’t bore you with the details again. If you’re interested check out her post here:

https://elinangharadwilliams.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/access-refusal-being-refused-by-a-taxi-driver-because-of-my-guide-dog-accessallareas/
And that brings us to today, which I’m sure all of you know is a very special day. It is a very important someone’s birthday. She is charming, beautiful, is highly intelligent and is widely adored. That’s right, it’s me! Even better, it’s a rather important birthday too. Today I am turning three in human years, but to me and all my four-legged friends I am turning 21! The boss celebrated her 21st last month, but I’m not sure I want to celebrate the way she did. I was not impressed to find her returning at the early hours of the morning, smelling quite strange and falling about all over the place (more than usual)! How very undignified. I have celebrated my birthday for my graciously with a trip to town this morning, a visit to the vets to get my nails done in the afternoon followed by a lovely run in the park. What more could a girl want?
So I think that’s you well and truly caught up on what’s gone on since my last post. It’s a very busy time for us right now; the boss is powering through her last few months of Uni while also trying to find us a new place to live. As usual, it’s my job to be her guide, companion and furry comfort blanket so I’m sure you’ll understand that with my paws full already it might be some time before my next Dog Blog. But I do hope you’ll subscribe so that my next update will go straight into your inbox!
Until then, chow for now!
J xx