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Born and Bred in the NHS

The History of Project Choice

National

Project Choice was born in 2005, starting within a single NHS Trust, offering a limited work experience programme. Through the innovation, compassion, and drive of our valued NHS staff, Project Choice is now a fully integrated national College and Supported Internship course. We are a leader in supporting the inclusion of young people with learning disabilities and/or autism in the workforce. The establishment of Project Choice is a testament to the value of relationships the NHS has with its local communities and the difference it can make to people's lives.

Project Choice got its namesake because we believed that young people with a disability should have as much CHOICE as anyone else about what they do with their lives. Watching my nephew Stevie, be denied even the option of choice because of his profound and multiple learning disability, drove me to want to provide opportunities for all young people with a disability

Linda Selby, Project Choice co-founder

Project Choice first began through a partnership between a local schoolteacher, Jo, and Linda, a chief biomedical scientist at Sunderland Royal Hospital NHS Trust. This dynamic partnership linked the scientists at the lab with a Specialist Learning Disability; and Profound & Multiple learning disability school, to share resources, community-based experiences, as well as providing some scientific education.

In 2005, Linda and Jo created an informal work experience programme, where Linda would take time out of her day each Wednesday to support one student for a half a day each week to give them the opportunity to work in the lab. One year later, the work experience programme was awarded the NHS improvement and innovation award. Surprising everyone, including the Trusts Chief Executive officer, who later approached the team saying: 'I gather there is something I need to know about?

This work experience programme was adopted fully by the Trust and would be further expanded and developed constantly and consistently to become what it is today. 

The role of Project Choice is to first and foremost give people with any disability the opportunity to experience work. Even if they have Profound and multiple learning disabilities and are likely not to ever enter the workforce. Even just having the chance to get some work experience is what we wanted to achieve

With the support the NHS Trust Diversity and Inclusion lead, the hospital expanded the work experience programme, partnering with an additional three local schools and expanding into more hospital departments and the ambulance service. Six years on and the programme had offered countless hours of work experience opportunities to approximately 190 young people aged 16-19 with learning disability.

In 2012, Project Choice could no longer expand and stay within the NHS trust and partnered with Gateshead College to further develop the programme and start a Supported Internship education course. New Project Choice sites were established in Newcastle, Gateshead and Sunderland NHS Trusts. With each year, the number of sites grew.

With an ambition to go National, in 2017, Health Education England hosted Project Choice as a Pilot Supported Internship programme and it was established as an independent education provider.

In 2017 alone, Project Choice grew by another six sites and had by this time supported over 250 young people with a learning disability in both work experience and Supported Internships.

Project Choice continued to grow over the years adding sites in London, Southampton, Sheffield and Northumberland.

Project Choice aims to create opportunities to include people with a learning disability and/ or autism in the workforce. Through this process we are creating communities where it is everyone's responsibility to be an advocate, to rethink their assumptions and help people with a disability find their place in the world.

Our first two students to gain permanent NHS contracts both work in the Pathology labs in the Trust where we began their Internship. They have maintained their employment through the disruption of a merger of 3 local Trust labs, changes in staff, and they are still employed there 10 years on. They are a credit to the NHS.

Without the NHS staff, the NHS Trusts and the wider community, Project Choice would not be able to have the impact it does. Through people taking a chance, providing an opportunity and showing a bit of empathy, everyone is able to contribute to the growth of young people with a disability.

It only took one NHS staff member to create a movement. It only took one local school to make a connection. But it changed the lives of so many in the process.

After 17 years, we continue to be a part of the NHS, find opportunities for young people, and create inclusive communities.