Young people with learning disabilities collect awards after completing new on-the-job training scheme at NDDH

project-search-logoThe achievements of young people with learning disabilities who have completed a new on-the-job training scheme at North Devon District Hospital were celebrated at an awards ceremony on Wednesday (2 July).

Project SEARCH is an innovative one-year internship programme which gives 18 to 24-year-old students with learning disabilities the chance to try a wide variety of job roles in a hospital setting.

The aim is to increase employability while building confidence, developing life skills and encouraging independence.


Pictured at the awards ceremony are (from left) graduates Robert Gilbert, Richard Cole, Jordan Edwards, Charlie Isaac, Kirk Dalziel, Marie Box and Martyn Sippitts, with Project SEARCH instructor Dave Bridges and Pluss employment adviser Clive Simpson.

The scheme was launched by the Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust, Petroc and Pluss in September 2013 and the first intake of seven students received their awards at a graduation event in the lecture hall at NDDH.

David Dodd, principal of Petroc, presented the students with certificates for completing the course and for achieving the nationally recognised ASDAN qualification in employability skills.

The graduates were Marie Box and Richard Cole, both aged 19, and Charlie Isaac, Jordan Edwards, Martyn Sippits, Kirk Dalziel and Robert Gilbert, all aged 20.

The students undertook placements as a healthcare assistant and patient meals assistant and in sterile services, booked admissions, healthcare records, portering, cleaning, procurement and electro-biomedical engineering (EBME), while also working in the hospital shop and restaurant.

The young people say the course has offered them a great opportunity and some have already secured permanent, temporary or trial positions.

Charlie, who is joining permanently as a post room operative, said: “Project SEARCH is a great opportunity to learn about working life.”

Richard, who has earned a trial as a cleaner at Bideford Hospital, said: “Since I started Project SEARCH there isn’t a cloud above me any more. I can see my future.”

Martyn has taken a temporary position as a cleaner while Marie has been given a trial as a healthcare assistant.

Robert, who is hoping to land a role in booked admissions, said: “Project SEARCH has given me a chance to be what I want to be in life.

“Before Project SEARCH I could only think of the impossible, but now when I’m working and improving myself I can see real possibilities.”

Kirk said: “Project SEARCH is a great way to gain experience and better yourself in a work environment.”

Jordan said: “Project SEARCH has given me a chance in life.”

Dave Bridges, Project SEARCH instructor for Petroc, said: “Over the course of the year I have had the privilege of seeing these interns grow in confidence and ability.

“It has been wonderful to observe all these hardworking, dedicated individuals progress from being a bit shy, a bit unsure at times, to feeling confident in their own abilities.

“The hospital teams that have provided placements have all been fantastic and have all shared in the positive experience of Project SEARCH, with many saying how they would like to keep on the interns.

“The feedback from interns and staff has been overwhelmingly positive and, combined with the fantastic achievements so far, prove what a fantastic opportunity Project SEARCH is for all involved.”

The programme builds on the huge success of the award-winning Project SEARCH at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, which has led to similar programmes being developed throughout the USA and in the UK.

Devon County Council funding enabled the project to expand to Barnstaple.

Darryn Allcorn, interim director of workforce and organisational development for the Trust, said: “As the largest employer in the area, it has been great to work with Petroc and Pluss to assist these young people towards fulfilling careers and employment.

“Each of the students should be very proud of their achievements and the positive impact they have made at NDDH.

“Statistics show that nine out of 10 adults with learning disabilities in North Devon are not in employment, even though the majority of these are ready and willing to enter the workplace, and we are delighted to be able to play our part in improving these figures.”

Marise Mackie, cluster manager for Pluss, said: “Project SEARCH is leading the way in providing young people with learning disabilities a platform to demonstrate their potential.

“We applaud Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust for having the vision to embrace the programme in the way they have, and Sodexo, who were equally committed to supporting the programme within the hospital.

“Thanks go to all the staff who have supported and mentored the students, as they played a pivotal role.

“This year’s students have been a pleasure to work with.

“They have all shown dedication and commitment, and it is down to them that Project SEARCH will continue at the hospital and provide more opportunities for more students for years to come.

“Project SEARCH is sending a strong message to all local employers – there is a pool of talented, committed individuals who can not only undertake jobs within your company but bring real diversity to your organisation.”

Project SEARCH is expanding ahead of the 2014/15 programme at NDDH, with 11 interns recruited so far and more departments keen to offer a placement.

For more information about Project SEARCH, visit

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Last updated: March 6, 2018