An innovation at Westcott Mill for people with learning disabilities

LEARNING has never been so much fun for disadvantaged adults in Honiton.

LEARNING has never been so much fun for disadvantaged adults in Honiton.Thanks to an innovative approach, Robert Owen Communities (ROC) has attracted almost 50 people to Westcott Mill, in New Street, which offers a wide range of motivational and transferrable skills to those with learning disabilities.Westcott Mill Learning Activity Centre, in premises formerly occupied by a concrete firm, was set up in 2003 with funding from the European Union.Neil Parsley, 50, is ROC's area services manager for East Devon. He is delighted that the workshop-based learning approach is making a real difference to people's lives.Some have benefitted to the extent that they have been able to find work for the first time in their lives, while others have moved out of residential homes to supported living accommodation in the community.And their artwork is so good it is currently available for sale. Breath-taking designs and colour schemes astounded town councillor David Foster, who has likened the work to professionals'."The services we provide have grown from two craft-orientated workshops to delivering 12 different workshops a week," said Mr Parsley."We are also now attracting people from Exeter, because of a lack of day learning services in the city."Our seven staff, who work full or part-time, are very experienced learning activity leaders. They have a diverse range of skills."There is one member of staff to every six learners using the centre and the key aim is to provide adults with learning disabilities with transferrable skills."They can include things like money skills," said Mr Parsley. "Each of the learners has an individual plan and they set out the objectives that they want to achieve."Work is on the basis of two criteria - that the workshops have to be fun and that, as a result, people will learn more."Some of the learning services take place at Honiton Sports Centre.Mr Parsley says weight can become a potentially life-limited problem for adults with Downs syndrome."Diet, physical activity and motivation can improve their learning," said Mr Parsley."Last year, some of our service users took part in the fun run section of the Great West run in Exeter. "They then decided they wanted to do sports activities every week. We've now got a waiting list for people to join."Pottery, drama, photography, gardening, IT, textiles and even film-making workshops are on offer at Westcott Mill, and the centre enjoys a link with Mill Water School in the town.A horticultural project at Luppitt saw people with learning difficulties growing their own vegetables in two polytunnels.In fact, they grew so much veg, they were able to sell some of their produce - which further helped them cope with financial calculations."Two of them were subsequently offered volunteering work with a nursery," said Mr Parsley."The aim is to encourage all our learners into more active, motivated roles."Some have gained part-time work for the first time in their lives. Others have left residential care to live in supported accommodation."ROC supplies a comprehensive service and all our learners choose to come here - they are not signposted by other organisations."Our staff have enormous job satisfaction. We want to take the 'dis' away from 'abled' - to see what our learners can do and build on that."Businesses keen to display artwork on a profit share basis or those willing to volunteer with ROC are asked to call Mr Parsley on (01404) 47277.ARTWORK FOR SALE: Neil Parsley (pictured below) is keen to hear from businesses willing to display artwork on a profit share basis.