New day centre for adults with learning difficulties

PUBLISHED: 12:30 16 June 2015

Reach Opportunity Centre opening.

Reach Opportunity Centre opening.

Archant

A NEW day centre for adults with learning difficulties has been launched to help teach life skills and develop business experience.

Peter Swingler created the day centre after finding it difficult to find anywhere for his son, who is severely autistic, to go after he leaves school.

The Reach Opportunity Centre, based in Weare, welcomes adults over the age of 18 with learning difficulties from across North Somerset, Sedgemoor, Somerset and the Mendips.

Peter, aged 47, said: “For the past two or three years we have been looking for somewhere for my son Jack to go during the day, but we couldn’t find anywhere we liked. They all seem to be farms and wellies and chucking them outside to play with animals, but I wanted a bit more than that.”

At the moment Jack goes to Avalon School in Street, which caters for 11 to 19-year-olds.

But Jack is 19 years old and will soon have to leave school, so Peter and his wife Jill, aged 45, enlisted the help of qualified carers Alice Gay and Tracie Samuels to launch their own day centre to suit their needs.

Peter, who also has a 21-year-old daughter Adrianne, said: “We are just a normal, hard-working family, with a son who has special needs. It isn’t easy, he needs and will always need 24-hour care. He’s not in the education system any more, he is an adult, and we just thought ‘where is he going to go?’”

Peter and his wife own the entire industrial site, which houses its business Beautiful Beanbags, so when a unit opened up he saw an opportunity.

He said: “We decided to build a day centre here, which is really an enterprise centre, we are running it as a social enterprise but we hope to register as a charity soon.

“We want to give the kids, or service users, something a bit more meaningful than being on a farm looking after animals – we want to give them a job, something to do.”

The day centre will have three mini businesses for the service users to have a role in, in the hopes of training them up and giving them life skills to find a job.

Peter’s dream is for all the service users to gather enough skills to start their own individual businesses and earn their own wage.

The first business is a tuck shop, and the young adults go around to nearby businesses selling food. Already this has been expanded to include menus and taking orders for sandwiches, but Peter hopes this will eventually develop so somebody can use a van to deliver catering.

The second will be a community radio station, and the third will be a print business – so service users can design patterns or take pictures and turn them into pillows, to be sold online.

The site also has chickens, pigs, a mini allotment and kitchen, as well as a chill-out room.

The day centre combines the expertise of the qualified carers with Peter and Jill’s business acumen, and Peter said: “This will become their place of work, not just a day centre.

“They don’t do anything they don’t want to do – if they want to go in the chill out room and play the Wii then they can.

“But we find they really want to do it. It’s based around what they want to do and what they like to do.

“Me and my wife, of all of our businesses, are really excited about this. I think every young adult with learning difficulties, no matter how vulnerable, we will find something for them here, something that is meaningful and works around what they want.

“It’s going to be really special.”

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