DFN Project SEARCH, a leading charity that supports young people with learning disabilities and autism to move into work, is pleased to announce the launch of a new supported internship programme in South Ribble, beginning September 2021.

This latest DFN Project SEARCH programme will be run in partnership with Progress Housing Group, who will be the host employer for South Ribble, Runshaw College as the education provider, Lancashire County Council, as the license holder, and Hft, a national charity supporting people with learning disabilities to live their best life as the supported employment provider.

Eight to twelve young adults who are currently studying at Runshaw College will have the opportunity to sign up to get involved for the first year.

DFN Project SEARCH works to build a more inclusive society by helping young people with learning disabilities and autism to access high quality work-related learning through immersive supported internships leading to a much improved opportunity to access long-term, full time paid employment.

Latest data from DFN Project SEARCH shows that in the past 12 months, 64 per cent of its 477 interns secured a paid job. These outcomes are well beyond the national statistics which show just 5.6 per cent of people with a learning disability or autism who are known to local authorities are in work. The national average wage for its graduates is £8.71 which is well above National Living Wage for 25+, despite the fact that the majority of graduating interns are under 23.

The charity has ambitions to get 10,000 young adults with learning disabilities and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade and 20,000 in the next 15 years.

Progress Housing Group Chief Executive Jacqui De-Rose: "We are thrilled to be participating in this project and hope we will be able to provide a fabulous experience of working in at Progress to lots of individuals. The project represents everything we stand for - giving something back to society, providing opportunities for people, challenging inequality, and working in true partnership. Thanks very much in advance to all those involved; I'm looking forward to hearing stories of the experience from colleagues and participants in the project."

County Councillor Phillippa Williamson, cabinet member for children, young people and schools: "We're delighted to offer the county council's support for these internships for young people who have a learning disability and autism. This is a great opportunity for these young people to embark on a transition work based programme to give them the skills and understanding of what employment has to offer. The council is fully committed to supporting this programme which offers young people the opportunity to reach their full potential and prepare them for adulthood."

Principal and Chief Executive of Runshaw College, Clare Russell: “Runshaw College is delighted to be the lead education partner in the new DFN Project SEARCH programme that will be hosted by Progress Housing Group in Leyland. At Runshaw, we want all students to have high expectations and achieve their full potential, then progress to high-quality, fulfilling jobs with a career plan that will sustain them through adulthood. As a diverse, inclusive and respectful college community that allows all students to thrive; we know that young people with learning disabilities and autism face additional challenges and barriers to success. With exceptional support, advice and guidance from staff who care about each individual, and by working alongside our strategic partners, we hope that this evidence-based programme will help all our students to achieve their dreams.”

Divisional Director at Hft, Andrew Horner: “Hft is proud to be beginning a new DFN Project SEARCH partnership with Progress Housing Group and Runshaw College in Lancashire. Working already with nine other DFN Project SEARCH programmes across England and Wales, Hft has played a key role in supporting interns to become ready for, find, and sustain paid employment. We are delighted to be able to extend this opportunity to a new cohort of interns and support them within the host business, Progress Housing, to make their first steps on their journey towards paid work.”

DFN Project SEARCH Director and Programme Specialist, Carmel McKeogh: “It is really exciting to be working with Progress Housing Group as the fantastic Host Business for our new DFN Project SEARCH programme in South Ribble. There are so many skills and opportunities for the young people to learn inside such a diverse and inclusive business. The commitment to change the life chances of young people with learning disabilities and autism in the area is shared by all the partners in this great programme and we are really looking forward to welcoming the first class of young people to Progress Housing in September 2021.”

You can learn more about DFN Project SEARCH at https://www.dfnprojectsearch.org/