Finding Amazing Talent

I am privileged to be the Patron of the Natspec Inclusive Skills Competitions. These are a range of competitions where young people with complex learning needs can showcase their skills in a range of areas. One of the perks of my role is going to the competitions and meeting the competitors.
Last week I went to Derwen College, which is in Oswestry, Shropshire, to see the finals of four of this years 29 competitions (last year – our first year – there were 6!). The four competitions were Visual Merchandising (displaying goods in a shop), Horticulture (planning and planting a hanging basket), Catering (making a jam sandwich) and Art (artwork on the theme of Me, Myself and I).

These were the finals, so the young people had won a number of heats to get to this stage, and there was much excitement. One finalist was unable to make the journey, so his college joined in via Skype – technology aiding inclusion, as it should. It was wonderful to see the young competitors take such a pride in the work they were doing, and their determination and enthusiasm was great to see. Alongside the competition finals were a range of “Have a go” activities, such as printing bags, and decorating cupcakes.

This year the Inclusive Skills Competitions have been joined by North Warwickshire and Hinckley College, which is a mainstream college but has a number of students with additional learning needs. Students from a number of different college were represented at the event at Derwen.

The day ended with the prizes being handed out. I delivered a short speech, but I think everyone was waiting for me to finish to find out what the results were. Of course, in reality, all of the competitors were winners. All had reached the finals and all had produced very high quality work. Work any employer would be proud of. Which for me is one of the benefits of these competitions. As well as encouraging the students to learn new things and work hard to improve their skills, it’s a great opportunity to show employers what skills young people have. People with learning disabilities, particularly, are very poorly represented in the workplace, and yet they can bring so much with them. A real source of untapped talent.

As if the day hadn’t already been great enough, I had the added bonus of meeting an extremely talented young artist, Matthew, and even buying one of his paintings. When he is a famous artist, I will be the very proud owner of one of his early works (and no, I won’t be selling it).

Jane and Matthew with Matthew's wonderful painting (bottom)


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