Let’s Get Started – Supporting self employment for people with disabilities in Ireland

Let’s Get Started – Supporting self employment for people with disabilities in Ireland

Supported self-employment is a relatively new idea in Ireland. A pilot project – Let’s Get Started – led by Brothers of Charity Clare and funded by The Genio Trust explored the best ways to help individuals with a disability to plan and set up a small business in their local area with family and community supports.  The project started in December 2012. The work included:

1) Research on good practice in supported self employment programmes around the world

2) Recruitment of a small number of individuals interested in setting up their own business in Clare

3) Development of ‘Start your own Business’ guidance and resources for people with disabilities and support organisations in Ireland

4) Action research on Let’s Get Started to help the steering group reflect on what they learned

5) Mainstreaming of Let’s Get Started into EmployAbility Clare – the supported employment organisation in county Clare

Starting Small, Progressing Slowly

An initial goal of Let’s Get Started was to recruit and support eight individuals who were interested in exploring opportunities for setting up their own business. There was a lot of interest. Fifteen people participated in the pilot phase, aged between seventeen and fifty, across County Clare.  The project progressed slowly. All of the participants in Let’s Get Started have focused on their interests and abilities, set a business or personal goal, working at a pace that suits them, and taking into account the availability of people to support them. Many people have busy lives, with paid work, volunteering and social activities, so the time spent on business planning varies between two hours per week and eight hours per week.  Individuals and their businesses are at various stages of business development.  Examples of businesses include dog grooming, pet accessories, horticulture, gardening and art and design.  Four people are working as a team in developing their plan for a social enterprise involving a second hand book shop, woodwork and crafts and accessible sailing facilities. They are involving local community and business supports.

Support Staff Play a Huge Role

Let’s Get Started has been a learning experience for everyone involved. Developing enterprises that are inclusive is a challenge, as organizations want to move away from segregated or isolated workplaces into more inclusive employment spaces.  Families, support staff and local communities have key advocacy and mentoring roles. Support staff also play an important role in helping individuals make their own decisions about the development of their business.  Business support skills and training is needed alongside more traditional professional development. Also important is recognising that while self-employment can offer a real option for some individuals if the right supports are in place, it is not for everyone.  Self-employment carries elements of risk and uncertainty, which some people find stressful. Learning from successful programmes elsewhere is crucial, particularly those that have good support for individuals in place.

Sharing What We’ve Learned  

Let’s Get Started is a Start your Own Business programme for people with disabilities.  This is a new area for a lot of people – individuals and the people who support them.  We want to share what we have learned and encourage others to ‘give it a go’.  We did research on some interesting self-employment programmes around the world.  The research is available on the internet at http://www.brothersofcharityclare.ie/about-us/latest-news/let-s-get-started-2 .  Our Guide to Self-Employment will be published soon. If you want to get a copy, you can email Helen McQuillan, Project Leader at:  helen@employabilityclare.ie

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