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Empowering People, Launching lives

The power of collaborative volunteering

Author: Ana Rodrigues, Marketing & Communications Officer, with the Early Years' team



14th November 2023 | 4 mins read

At BeyondAutism, we believe that volunteering enables everyone to make meaningful and lasting contributions to their community. Tiffany’s journey at BeyondAutism Early Years is a shining example of how volunteering experiences can be adapted to meet individual needs, making them accessible.

Tiffany, who joined BeyondAutism Early Years as a student volunteer for the 2022-23 academic year, has now become an integral part of the team, showcasing the importance of volunteering not only to develop workplace skills, but as a source of growth, happiness and meaningful changes to the community.


The start of Tiffany’s path at Early Years

Tiffany embarked on her journey with BeyondAutism Early Years through the Higher Needs Supported Internship programme offered by Bromley Mencap in partnership with London South East Colleges. This program is a structured, work-based study programme designed to support 16-24-year-olds with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND), specifically those with Education, Health, and Care Plans (EHCP). The core objective is to provide participants with substantial work placements, facilitated by expert job coaches.

Supported internships offer young people the chance to acquire the skills needed for future employment through real-world experience. During her internship with us, Tiffany also pursued a personalised study programme that included studying towards a relevant qualification, further equipping her for future employment.

The programme’s ultimate aim is to transition young people with EHCPs into sustained, paid employment – a crucial goal, given that less than less than 6% of people with learning disabilities in contact with local authorities secure paid employment nationally.

Volunteering beyond her placement  

Tiffany was initially supported by a specialist job coach from Mencap during her placement, which concluded when she turned 25.  During her placement, we were impressed by Tiffany’s dedication and immense potential. Tiffany was driven to make a difference to our families, was very safeguarding orientated, and always striving to keep our children safe.  Tiffany was proactive, a fast learner, and very adept at the tasks that she enjoyed. As time went on her Mencap coach gradually reduced her support until Tiffany was working independently most of the time.  In July 2023, at the end of her internship we approached Tiffany and her mum to suggest a fixed volunteering position in our Early Years’ service. Tiffany then became a dedicated BeyondAutism Early Years’ volunteer in September 2023.

Every Tuesday and Friday, Tiffany joins us to support our families and our team. Tiffany’s role is diverse with a mix of tasks that she feels confident with and new ones that present a different challenge for her. At Early Years Tiffany is under the guidance of a mentor, our Early Years Administrator Xuan. Some of Tiffany’s tasks include taking coffee and tea orders from parents, preparing their beverages, assisting with short admin tasks, and helping the team maintain and clean the centre.

I like helping staff, making teas and coffees, and helping Xuan, Sarah and Marta. I am very happy here

Finding what works together

During Tiffany’s time volunteering with us we are committed to exploring her interests for future employment and developing any relevant new skills that she may need. To help achieve this, we reflect together on what adjustments Tiffany feels would be beneficial to ensure that the work environment is right for her. Some changes include:

  • End of Week Reflection: We created a personalised End of Week Reflection document, complete with symbols and a colour grading system for self-evaluation, which helps Tiffany to reflect on her own progress. Tiffany and her mentor, Xuan, take 15 to 20 minutes to reflect on the week’s events and make plans for the next week. The document includes a “things I want to learn to do” section where Tiffany can express what new interests she may have or any skills she would like to develop further at work.
  • Personalised Timetable:  Tiffany has a tailored timetable that allows her to manage her own time. This includes ample free choice time, encouraging her to explore her interests, be independent, and take charge of her schedule.
  • Adapted Document Design: Some of our existing documents were not fully accessible so we explored different options until Tiffany found what worked for her. We altered them accordingly, for example creating a multicoloured table that Tiffany is now using to take tea and coffee orders from parents. The new design, featuring a tick or cross system for simplicity, has empowered Tiffany to perform this task independently.
  • Skill Building: Tasks are broken down into small steps allowing Tiffany to try new things and expand on skills she already has. Opportunities are provided to practice new tasks and work on them gradually. For example, Tiffany reflected on her skills when using a guillotine and concluded that she needed support in this area. Tiffany and Xuan designed a document with thick coloured lines so she could practice and over time reduced the thickness and colours until Tiffany was confident cutting thin black lines. Tiffany is now using the guillotine independently, and she recently helped us finish a display in the main classroom.

Looking ahead 

Through her role at BeyondAutism Early Years, Tiffany continues to gain skills that will support her in securing future paid employment, completing diverse tasks that she is interested in or that she identifies as something that she needs help with.

Tiffany’s journey with our team is a testament to the power of supported internships, adaptive workplaces, and the value of volunteering. We are proud to have her as part of our BeyondAutism Early Years’ team, and we look forward to the bright future she is building for herself.


Interested in volunteering for BeyondAutism? 

Click here and check out different ways you can do so! 

For more information on inclusion in employment, take a look at our free employability toolkit and employability training which contains loads of information and resources on how to make workplace environments more inclusive.  

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