Hedleys Employability hosts a number of events throughout the year to support employers to be more disability confident.

The aim of these events is to break down the barriers employers envisage to employing disabled people.

It also offers employers the chance to share experiences, best practices and ask questions.

Our next event is…

Click here to book your FREE ticket via Eventbrite.

The Change Attitudes Now Conference organised by Hedleys Employability proved to be a huge success at the beginning of December.

There was a packed house of 200 at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle for the event, which aimed to challenge the disability employment gap. The Government has pledged to halve the gap – currently 33.1 per cent – by 2020.

Minister for Disabled People, Work and Pensions, Sarah Newton, joined several speakers including Baroness Tanni-Grey Thompson, Jordan Jarrett-Bryan, Liz Sayce, who all had their say on what the country could be doing better to get more disabled people into work.

It was a huge team effort to make the conference a success with several areas of the Foundation working together and contributing. Students from Hedleys College volunteered on the day, welcoming and assisting delegates, while Barry, who attends Hedleys Studios at the Orion Project interviewed some of the speakers for Hedleys Radio. Hedleys Printworks also provided the signs and banners which made the room look great.

CAN Conference Podcast


We received some fantastic feedback from attendees. Check out some of their comments:

Kelly: Thank you @percyhedley! A great event! Really enjoyed it and met some great people! Learnt a few things too!

Kate: Great conference! Spread the word #CAN

Bell Group: We’ve had a great and very positive day in #Newcastle at the #CANConference for the @percyhedley Foundation today. Thank you for inviting us. #PositiveAttitude

Thanks to the support of employers across the North East, Hedleys Employability has placed many young people and adults within companies to gain valuable work experience in the last year.

In a series of features, we go behind the scenes at some of the placements organised by the Hedleys Employability team to see how both employer and employee benefit from the experience.

Next up is Toby Redford, who attends Hedleys College in Forest Hall. Toby attends a supported internship at the Virtual College in Blyth.

It’s approaching 10am on a cold and wet November morning in Blyth and Hedleys College student Toby has just arrived for work.

Since September Toby, 22, has attended a two-day supported internship at the Northumberland Virtual School for Looked After Children in Blyth, which provides education and support to over 300 children across Northumberland.

Every Tuesday and Thursday Toby spends the day at the School’s office carrying out a number of tasks, but not before he’s gone round the office to say hello and ask how everyone is.

Toby’s tasks include data input, organising brochures and workbooks, participating on the Pupil Placement Panel, organising paperwork and attending meetings. Team Manager Toni McGuire explains how much Toby has progressed in only a few months.

“Toby’s independence has grown massively since he started with us,” Toni said.

“At the beginning he would stay close to Kerry (who supports Toby at his internship) but now he likes to arrive on his own and relies on Kerry a lot less .

“The quality of Toby’s work is very impressive and he’s become very popular with everyone in the office.

“When Toby is here he lifts the mood, he really has had a positive effect on the whole office.”

Toby has been a student at Hedleys College for three years and did an initial work placement at the Virtual School earlier this year. Staff were so impressed that they offered him a two-day supported internship.

Toni said: “It’s been a positive experience all round for us. We have had to think more about how we facilitate staff and how we communicate and give instructions.

“It’s really important that more businesses offer internships to disabled people. Toby’s internship runs for one year and we do hope to offer him a permanent part-time post at the end of it.”

Hedleys Employability recently hosted a high-profile conference aimed at challenging the current disability employment gap.

The Government has set a bold target to halve the disability employment gap between disabled and non-disabled workers by 2020, which currently stands at approximately 33.1 per cent.

Christine Shanks-Brownlee, Project Manager at Hedleys Employability believes it is vital more employers offer internships like Northumberland Virtual School. She said: “Hedleys Employability compliments the Government’s Disability Confident Campaign, which is committed to halving the disability employment gap.

“Employers have a vital role to play in this. The number of disabled people entering the labour market can only be increased if employers are willing to employ them.”

Minister of State Sarah Newton and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson and will be among the speakers at the Hedleys Employability CAN Conference on December 1st.

The conference, which will be held at the Crowne Plaza in Newcastle, aims to challenge attitudes and behaviours towards disability employment and focus on closing the disability employment gap.

Parliamentarian Baroness Grey-Thompson and Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, Sarah Newton, will also be joined former CEO of Disability Rights UK Liz Sayce and Channel 4 News reporter Jordan Jarrett-Bryan.

The event is CPD accredited which will be recognised by professional bodies as part of appraisal and revalidation.

A full programme of the day can be found on the poster below and tickets can be booked at: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/hedleys-employability-can-conference-tickets-38342769255?aff=eac2

Thanks to the support of employers across the North East, Hedleys Employability has placed 73 disabled young people and adults within companies to gain valuable work experience in the last year.

In a series of features, we go behind the scenes at some of the work placements organised by the Hedleys Employability team to see how both employer and employee benefit from the experience.

Next up is Jack Bell, who attends Northern Counties School in Jesmond. Jack’s placement was at Tesco Simonside, South Shields, where he went one day a week for five months.

Jack has been finding out what it’s like to work at grocery giant Tesco.

The Northern Counties School student has a moderate to severe hearing impairment and showed an interest in retail after he attended a Farm to Fork session delivered at Tesco in Sunderland.

After building links through Whizz Kidz, Hedleys Employability sourced a placement for Jack at Tesco in Simonside, South Shields, for 5 weeks.

Jack attended his placement every Tuesday between 10am-3pm and his tasks included pricing and labelling products and operating the training checkout.

He enjoyed his time at the store so much he expressed a desire to extend his placement.

Store Manager, Helen Harber, was only too happy to accommodate Jack and extended the placement until the end of July.

As an organisation they have learnt so much from Jack about his ability to carry out tasks, as Helen explains.

“Jack will not allow anything to defeat him, he makes himself known to the customers and staff,” Helen said.

“Initially I thought Jack’s hearing impairment would be a barrier but this hasn’t been the case. We have found alternative ways to communicate.

“Having Jack here has taught us a lot about communicating with deaf people. When Jack first came I probably aimed most of our conversation at his interpreter but now I focus on Jack when we’re talking.

“For me personally, it’s taught me a lot having Jack with us and it’s taught us a lot about different disabilities. Through our links with Whizz Kids we tend to come across individuals who use wheelchairs so it has been good to have Jack who has a very different impairment.”

Following Jack’s placement, Tesco have also invited Hedleys Employability into store to deliver disability awareness training to staff.

Helen said: “Staff are really keen to get involved in some disability awareness training and it’s something we’ll be able to take a lot from.

“We’re a small store so we work with a lot of disabled customers who prefer coming here than going to one of our bigger stores.

“Having Jack on placement has not only been about communication, it’s taught us a lot in terms of accessibility as well.

“Jack’s a lovely young man and it’s been a privilege to work with him. We can see that he gets so much out of it and it makes me proud to work with him and be able to offer him this opportunity.”

Hedleys Employability: Review of 2016

2016 was another successful year for Hedleys Employability. We got straight back into the swing of things in January, engaging with new employers and completing a host of three way agreements.

Chinese visit 7We engaged with 19 new employers in January alone, with approximately 99 new employers engaged by the end of 2016. Networking at its best!

It was an absolutely fantastic opportunity for Hedleys Employability when 12 Chinese tutors spent the day at The Percy Hedley Foundation. They were blown away by the fantastic work we do. A big thank you to Northumbria University for their help in organising and supporting the visit.

Click here to find out how you could work with Hedleys Employability

Sixteen students from Hedleys College and Post 16 at Percy Hedley School started an 8-week programme with Music Inclusion at the Sage. They learnt an array of transferrable skills and grew in confidence as the weeks progressed.


In total 268 students from College, Post 16 and Adult Services attended workshops throughout  the year, including Farm to Fork delivered by Tesco, Safety Works, Washington Fire Station, Foraging in Jesmond Dene with Peace and Loaf restaurant, a visit to one of the leading car manufacturers, Calsonic, and many, many more!

50 students have attended meaningful work placements from Coffee Giant to Snorkel, Mears, intu Metrocentre and Eldon Square and many more.


12 members of staff from Laybourn Group attended Disability Awareness training in January, with a staggering number of 168 staff members from various organisations taking part and becoming more disability confident by the end of 2016.

In March we held our first breakfast event delivered around etiquette and political correctness with 22 people in attendance. Another two events were delivered in 2016, which covered Deaf Awareness and Autism Awareness. In total 100 staff members from different organisations attended.

Throughout the year we hosted numerous events from the Family Day in May to DNEX in September with the help of 35 disabled people and worked with service users to plan and organise Hedleys Got Talent. 14 of our disabled service users rang around suppliers, employers, sourced the venue and pulled off a spectacular show that wowed everyone. In total, 49 disabled people gave up their time to support these events.

Eighteen students carried out access audits at intu Metrocentre, The Trafford Centre Manchester and Blackpool Tower. This was an invigorating experience for those involved. They experienced nights away from home and the culture and nightlife of Blackpool. Some students attended Bond Dickinson, where they were presented with a cheque towards a mobile iMuse bus. In total 28 students presented themselves in a positive manner and presented relevant feedback and training to organisations.

Bond Dickinson Double cheque pres

Newcastle Airport was overwhelmed by the feedback they received from an access audit that was carried out in the summer. Audits are becoming increasingly more popular with the employers we work with.

After a busy 2016, we are hoping to keep up the good work and make 2017 an even bigger and better year for Hedleys Employability. Thanks to every employer who has supported us.

Audit6 Airport2 EmployabilityAutism3

Employer in the Spotlight: Snorkel UK

Thanks to the support of employers across the North East, The Percy Hedley Foundation has placed 73 disabled young people and adults within companies to gain valuable work experience in the last year.

In a series of features, we go behind the scenes at some of the work placements organised by Hedleys Employability to see how both employer and employee benefit from the experience.

Next up is two students who access the Adult Programme at Hedleys College and have been on work placements at Washington-based Snorkel UK, who produce a range of aerial lifts.

Last college year, Snorkel UK placed two Hedleys College students on work placements at their factory in Washington.


One of those students was Jill Morrison, who accesses the Adult Programme at Hedleys College and is now in her fourth year with us.

The Adult Programme can be full or part time and provides a wide range of activities to allow young people social, leisure and creative opportunities alongside their peers.

Following an assessment by tutors and therapy professionals, students access individual, differentiated and well-structured programmes with two days on external work experience and three days in College.

Jill’s learning outcome linked to work experience was to work at an appropriate volume and also achieve some specific learning objectives focused around communication and independence.


She spent her two days a week on placement at Snorkel, working in the organisation’s busy office. There, Jill’s duties included logging paperwork, filing on computer systems and making training booklets and induction packs.

“I needed lots of help at first, but now I feel a lot more independent,” Jill explained. “I like to be busy and it’s non-stop work here.

“I was probably quite shy at first but I now feel more comfortable communicating with everyone. It’s such a friendly place and I’ve made some friends. They’ve been really welcoming and that made things easier.”

Jane Simpson, HR Manager at Snorkel, said: “Jill’s grown in confidence so much and she doesn’t hesitate to come and ask if she’s unsure.

“She’s been very sociable with the rest of the team and gets involved in conversations. Her stamina has really improved too. At first, I think she found the days quite tiring, but towards the end it became easier for her.”

Snorkel also provided the opportunity for another student, Danny Middlemass, to gain work experience in the warehouse one day a week.


Danny’s outcomes were to communicate effectively with unfamiliar people to carry out tasks with minimum prompting.

“Danny has been a great addition to the warehouse team and has really come on a lot in his time with us.

“We would like to continue to have people from Percy Hedley in the future. It’s a great way to raise awareness for staff and clients and provide opportunities for meaningful work experience.”

To learn more about Hedleys Employability click here.

Thanks to the support of employers across the North East, Hedleys College has had 46 students placed within companies to gain valuable work experience over the last year.

In a series of features, we go behind the scenes at some of our work placements organised by Hedleys Employability to see how both employer and employee benefit from the experience.

Next up is 21-year-old Rafique Uddin, who has been on placement at intu Eldon Square since September.

It’s a busy Friday morning at intu Eldon Square and Rafique Uddin is in position on the Customer Service desk.

Rafique attends a work placement at the shopping centre in Newcastle one day a week and his duties involve answering customer enquiries, working in lost property and carrying out promotional duties in the mall.

He is currently in his second year at Hedleys College and accesses the Vocational Programme – a specialist course for young people aged 16-25 years with complex learning needs and multiple disabilities (physical, medical and/or sensory).

Following a multi-disciplinary initial and baseline assessment by specialist tutors and therapy professionals, students access individual, differentiated and well-structured programmes with a day on external work experience and four days in College training in one of our pathways: Hospitality and Catering, Business Administration or Horticulture.

Rafique’s learning outcome is to take part in work experience suited to his interests, skills and abilities, complete work placement in a customer service environment and plan to travel to his placement with support.

Since starting, Sharon Sommerville, Customer Service Coordinator at intu Eldon Square, has noticed how much Rafique has grown in confidence in speaking to customers and what they as the employer have learnt of reasonable adjusts needed in place for our learners in the work place.

Sharon said: “I have loved working with Raf, he is so lovely and is willing to learn, everything I have told him he has listened and is very keen to learn. He enjoys serving the customers and has really opened up, he has shared the ability, to do the job very well and is a pleasure to learn and work with.”

Paula Stott, Customer Service Advisor, also works with Rafique.

She said: “Raf was really shy at first, but we saw a change in him after a few months. He was much more confident and outgoing.

“Having Raf around has given us a better understanding of disability access and increased our awareness of problems disabled people encounter when they are out shopping.

“Everybody knows Raf, he’s a lovely character, We treat him the same as every other member of staff. He’s just become one of the team.

“There have been a few times when people have come to the desk and ignored Raf, but we have a little understanding that if people try to get my attention instead of his, I go off and pretend I am busy! It’s about changing people’s perceptions of disability.

“Most of our regular customers make a beeline for Raf when he’s in and they enjoy chatting to him.”

Rafique has certainly got a lot out of his time at intu, he said: “I really like the people there. Even though I’m working they make it really fun and I’ve made some new friends.

“The tasks I do have made me feel a lot more comfortable about being out in the community and I feel much more confident than I did before I started.

“I hope the skills I have developed will help me get a job when I leave college.”

Work placements are organised by Hedleys Employability. To find out more click here