A project based in the heart of Bognor is attracting national attention for the way it is changing the lives of ten young people with additional needs. We met some of the inaugural residents of the York Road Project.
Before he moved into the property in York Road a year and a half ago, 28-year-old Joseph had lived with his mum.
He said settling into his flat, one of ten at the building which each come with their own bathroom and kitchen, was difficult at first.
“Last year I was really homesick,” he said. “I missed home for quite a long time.”
But with a bit of support, his confidence began to grow.
Now, he said: “I’m really quite happy in York Road and in my own flat too.
“I’ve learnt to become independent. I do everything – dusting the table, cleaning the bathroom, hoovering, cooking my own food.
“If I get stuck, I can always ask for help.”
Living independently in the community
The York Road project, which is a collaboration between Chichester College and The Aldingbourne Trust, is designed to help its residents develop the skills and confidence they need to live independently in the community.
It gives them a home for up to three years in a supported setting while they complete their studies at the college, preparing them for their next stage in life.
Lucy Cooper, transition and collaboration co-ordinator at Chichester College, said: “The idea is that you come in needing a certain level of support, but leave needing less support, hopefully for the rest of your life.
“That’s our dream, to get people to the point where they are working and are a valued part of the community.”
Key to this is equipping the residents with the practical skills they need to navigate everyday life.
Sophie, 23, was too scared to get public transport by herself before she went to York Road,
But thanks to support from staff, she is now able to get the bus to the college every day with friends or even by herself.
She also did not have much experience managing her own finances or going places by herself.
But in recent months, she has enjoyed a trip to the zoo in London and, after getting a passport, went on her first holiday abroad to Disneyland.
All the residents take weekly advanced life learning class at the college, where they have learnt everything from budgeting and how to vote, to mindfulness techniques to help them deal with stress.
Thanks to the cooking classes, most are now able to cook their own meals at their flats.
Joseph said he likes cooking sausages and mash and sometimes cooks food for other residents in the building.
Lucy said: “It’s really exciting to see all the stuff that has changed for them.”
Both Sophie and Joseph spends four days a week studying theatre inc. at Chichester College – while the other residents study subjects as varied as animation, football coaching and performing arts.
But their busy schedules also see them spending lots of time in the community.
Joseph can be found working front of house at Chichester Festival Theatre once a week.
Earlier this year he ran the Bognor 10K, raising £100 for the Aldingbourne Trust,
He also enjoys hanging out once or twice a week with his girlfriend, who he met when he appeared on the TV show The Undateables, and he has even showcased his singing skills by auditioning for Britain’s Got Talent.
Engaging with the community
Residents at York Road recently enjoyed Living Out Loud, a club night at Tao’s in Bognor aimed at people with disabilities.
Laura Coventry, transition service team leader at the Aldingbourne Trust, said of York Road: “The idea of the project is that people are accessing things in the community.
“There’s no separation from the town they live in, they are engaging with it. There’s a lot of things going on in Bognor.”
Despite ranging in age from 19 and 28 and being a mix of personalities and ability types, Lucy said of the residents: “They all kind of identify as a family. Some of them don’t have a family themselves.”
As well as being supported by staff who were always on hand to help out at the York Road property, there was also a lot of peer to peer support taking place there, Lucy said.
Asked what she had learnt by being at York Road, Sophie said: “That people can be kind.”
The project has been running for less than two years but has already received praise and was shortlisted for an award this year by the National Association of Special Education Needs in the ‘Provision of the Year’ category.
Judges were particularly impressed by its collaborative nature and how the good communication between staff at the college and the trust was benefitting the residents.
They also praised the ‘friendly and welcoming atmosphere’ staff had created at the York Road property.
Laura said it was ‘lovely’ to be nominated for the award for the project, which was still so ‘exciting and new’. She said of working there: “It’s very interesting and very lively.”