NADP works closely with many partners to provide information and support for our members.
This episode finds Lynn Wilson from NADP chatting with Tara Chataway from the Thomas Pocklington Trust to find out more about the organisation and their plans for the future.
NADPVIC2021: Joining the dots of inclusive practice – what is the picture now?
Lynn Wilson in conversation with Tara Chataway form the Thomas Pocklington Trust.
Lynn: Welcome to the fourth in our series of NADP conference podcasts. In the last three, we interviewed our NADP country advisers and found out more about student support in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Today I'm talking with Tara Chataway from the Thomas Pocklington Trust, one of our partner organisations with whom we work closely. Welcome, Tara.
Tara: Hi, Lynn. Thank you for having me.
Lynn: Can you tell us something about the Thomas Pocklington Trust? I think a lot of our members will have heard of you, but not everybody.
Tara: Yes, of course. So, the Thomas Pocklington Trust - we are a charity that works with blind and partially sighted people of all ages, to assist them to get the most out of education, employment, and engagement. These are the three themes that we work within and I work within our education team as Head of Education. So, we support blind or partially sighted people of all ages, and to get into and get the most out of education, including post 16 education.
Lynn: So, do you have many university students?
Tara: So, how we support students. We launched our service back in April last year, so we're just over a year old. And one of the reasons that we set the service up, it's because we were hearing from students that were struggling to access Disabled Students Allowance or were struggling during university, and we were hearing from some students who’d dropped out of university or are spending a lot longer and completing their courses.
We also work closely with the University of Birmingham and we've been funding a longitudinal study where they followed a number of blind and partially sighted students from the ages of 11 to 14, and they followed them over 10 years. During that time, the research found that the students, even though they had aspirations of going into employment and doing all sorts of wonderful things, when they got into post-16 education they really started to struggle and were spending a long time in post-16 education. And then, many were leaving and then being not in employment, education or training. Or going on to university, and then not finding employment and then getting back into studies.
From all of the research, we thought there was a real need for a bespoke service. And we'd also heard from students, as well, who said that they thought there was a lot of information out there. They just didn't know where to go, it was all spread over the net. So, what we've tried to do as well, is pull together all of that information in one place. So, we speak to students directly and to professionals, but what we hope is, on our resource pages, we have about 60 to 70 different pieces of information that cover anything from applying to university or college; through to getting finance in place; choosing accommodation. And what we hope, is they can go to the website and hopefully find the answers to their questions or be directed to where they need to go. And then, if they can't, they can contact our service directly, and then we can provide that one-to-one information and support. And we also have a Facebook page, that's got about, 115 students and professionals as members, and on that Facebook page, students often, post a question and other students can come in and answer, or professionals as well. So, we're always thinking of ways that we can bring and network people together. And obviously we launched at the start of the pandemic, so that's been quite interesting and that really helped to shape our service and the direction of our service.
Lynn: Well, I know we've been very grateful for a lot of the work you've done because we worked together over a couple of projects, and many of our members were struggling with how to work with sighted guides and habilitation work, and you did some research with some other organisations and produced some fabulous guidance which I know has been really welcomed by a lot of our members. So, thank you for that.
Tara: You're welcome. And that's really what we hope with the service, is that what we want to do is to provide meaningful information and advice, and so it's great to hear from professionals, and all the guidance that we have produced, we've been really grateful to work with yourselves, NADP, and also with Guide Dogs and RNIB and universities. So, we provide guidance around accessible exams during COVID, supporting students in Higher Education during COVID, and also supporting students in Further Education and all of those documents were produced alongside professionals, which I think has really helped to ensure that they are quality documents that are useful.
Lynn: I think collaboration over these documents is great because everyone has different ideas and to get them all down into one place for the students is so important. And we will, of course, add your links to our web page, underneath the podcast, so that members can actually access the information should they need to look at it, and we've also got some on our NADP COVID Resource Hub too. Okay, so your team's been going about a year now. Is it a big team or a small team, or…?
Tara: As with all organisations, at the moment, we've gone through a bit of a change. So, our ‘Student Support’ team and our ‘Children, Young People and Families’ team are now coming together which is brilliant because that's going to enable us to really focus on the transition of young people as they move through from secondary school into Further Education. And so, at the moment, I head up our team, and we have four members of our team. And they each have different specialist areas. So, around mainstream education, mainstream college and universities, and then, between the team, as well, we all man our student support line. Our service to provide information and guidance. We all provide information and write resources together as well, but then we have those, kind of, specialist knowledge areas that we have. So, we're a small team and we're really excited, as from June onwards, to take our work across the whole kind of education spectrum and to move that forward. Because really what we want to ensure is that the students can make that transition through education, and then into employment.
Lynn: I think those are the danger points aren't they? In that students have been well supported in school, and then have to find their way to the next level, and then have to find their way to, maybe, University and then have to find their way into employment and it's different all the way through and making those transitions. It'll be great to have your service there as a support mechanism to make sure they don't fall between the gaps.
Tara: Absolutely. From the research that the longitudinal study the University of Birmingham carried out, and from our conversations with professionals and students and parents, we are really concerned about that. That many young people are falling off a bit of a cliff edge when it comes to post-16 education, particularly those that go into mainstream colleges. The way the funding works is then the colleges often have to buy in specialist support for all the students: access to mobility and independence training isn't always there. Also, when you're 16 as well, you know, it's a step into adulthood and finding your way.
So, at the moment, we've instructed another organisation to carry out a piece of research to understand accessible technology and Further Education So, how students can access accessible technology; how they can order the equipment that they may need; how they can access different platforms. So, what we're really going to try and do is to try and understand the picture that's out there and some of those barriers so that we can come up with some solutions and information, advice. Whether that is lobbying Government or providing support for our colleges. So yes, we're quite excited about that work going forward. We feel like we've got quite a lot of information out there around universities and we're still building on that information. I think the next challenge is really about looking at that post-16 transition. And I think bringing the education and teams together at Thomas Pocklington Trust will really help us to be able to do that.
Lynn: That sounds great, and I can feel a webinar coming on for our members, when you've got the results of that, because we have a lot of Further Education and Higher Education members. So, I'm sure there'll be a great deal of interest in that. But coming to you, what's something about you that… I know some of our members are quite familiar with your work… but something about you that they wouldn't know?
Tara: And so, I don’t know really… I have a daughter, she's about to start school so she keeps me busy. I'm just starting to get back into my running. I used to be a really keen runner, and just starting to get back into my running now which is really good. I think it's so important, particularly during lockdown, looking after your mental health. You know, I think, whilst I am working and being able to work more in the evenings, it's quite easy to get consumed within work and home life and I think just taking a break. So, I think I'm slowly realising that; and I'm realising that running is a really good way of just breaking out of that. So yes, I'm looking forward to doing that more and yes, and just sort of… I live in Bristol. I really love the community feeling in Bristol. So, it's really good to start now that things are starting to open up a bit more and to get out and be part of the community and to be involved.
I've been volunteering during lockdown as well. Just supporting the council so a bit of befriending or picking up prescriptions here and there, when needed and stuff which is really great because I love living in Bristol and I love that community and it's nice to be part of that. So, that's me really. I've worked in the sight sector before, for quite a while now, and mainly in policy and campaigning. So moving into the service delivery side of things has been challenging and interesting but I'm really, really enjoying it and looking forward to kind of the challenges of the education work going forward.
Lynn: That's great. I totally agree with you about working from home. it's so easy. You’re strict to start with and make sure you stick to your hours and then it just drifts into the evening and you suddenly realise it's seven o'clock at night, and actually you should have stopped a few hours ago. I find I'm not so good at running nowadays. I had an accident a few years ago but I'm back on my bike now and cycling around and that's really beneficial to mental health, and also keeping that eye on your day length to make sure that you're not getting up and thinking, ‘Oh, I haven’t got to travel into work so I'll start at eight rather than nine’ and then it drifts on to six and seven at night and you're not having any life apart from work, and then you can't switch off enough to sleep. So yeah I think running is a great one.
Tara: Exactly. And I think I'm really aware of it as a manager and encouraging my staff; not monitoring their hours and ensuring that they know that they don't need to; but then, sometimes, I think it's easy to just ignore that advice yourself, isn't it? You need to remind yourself and take that responsibility so yeah, I agree.
Lynn: So, you say you've worked in various roles in the kind of sight field. What did you first become passionate about working in this sort of field?
Tara: So, the reason that I got into this area of work was because I realised that I was quite passionate about change and campaigning. So, that's what really got me into the work. I worked for an international development charity, worked for a transport charity and worked for older people's charity, And then a job in sight loss sector came up. And what I really enjoy about the work and am really passionate about, and what we are trying to make sure we do with our service, is about involving users, and those who have lived experience, in coming up with the solutions and people actually using that work. So, as part of our work that we're doing at the moment, we just recruited eight volunteers. And we're really excited, they're all students, current students or recently graduated students, and they're going to come on board and help to shape our service, moving forward. But also help to get involved in our project. So, to write content for our web pages, to write some of our resources. So, we can identify what their skill sets are, what they want to develop and really get that involved. And that's what I'm really passionate about: the work that I do; about involving users: those who have lived experience; and also about doing something that's meaningful. I like to think that everything we do with the Student Support Service work is, is meaningful, as an NGO that there's something that either professionals can use, or students can take themselves to self-advocate as well. So that's the bit that really motivates me and I always find it interesting when I speak to friends or others they may say ‘I have to go into work today and I don't enjoy my job’. I really love my job and I really enjoy it and I feel really lucky that I've got a job that I do enjoy and that I feel motivated to do. So yeah, and I think we've got a great team as well. There’s a lot of energy in our team and I think that's really an important as well.
Lynn: So, you're working from home at the moment. Will you be back in your office with your team soon or is that going to be in abeyance for a while?
Tara: No. Because I have offices in London since working for Thomas Pocklington Trust. I have been a home worker, so it was quite interesting for lockdown to then see everybody else become home workers as well and have a little bit of a taste of what it's about. But I do travel to London fairly often, about once a week. All of my team are home based and most of us are towards the west of the country, either in the West Midlands or the southwest. So I'm looking forward to when we can all come together, We're hoping to have a hub in Bristol, that's part of Guide Dogs and other sight-loss charities. A place that that we can go to hot desk and to hold meetings, I'm really looking forward to being able to sort of get the team together face to face and going to see people face to face as well but we are a home working based team.
Lynn: Yes, I quite enjoy my home working I must admit, I tend to get up and walk the dog so that I actually get some fresh air first thing in the morning. And then I'm afraid I do start a bit early but, you know, I try not to. But yes, the ability to get up and walk the dog and do some cooking and walk around the garden, and then start work rather than actually having to… because I used to live in London… getting get on trains and buses and struggling to work and be exhausted by the time you get there. So, I do enjoy home working.
Tara: Yes, it definitely has its benefits in terms of being able to… if you can get that home-work-life balance right. Instead of using your commute time, use it to go for a walk or to do something. Yes, I agree. I think it's one of those things that I'm aware of as a manager, making sure that the team don't slip into those bad habits of needing to be at your desk all the time because when you're in the office you have those water-cooler moments; you make other people cups of tea; you have these chats; and I think that's a bit that everybody's missing and I miss as well from going into London and having those chats to people and finding out bits of information that I wouldn't have known about. Sometimes collaborations come up as result of a conversation that you have with somebody. So yes, I'm looking forward to the days when we can go back into the office but having that balance of being able to work from home as well.
Lynn: I think the collaboration side is really important and when I was working in a university, I'd have academics come and throw themselves down the desk beside me and say, ‘Oh, you're there, I wanted to ask you something’. That doesn't happen when you're home working. Yeah, I think it's in a lot of ways I do miss that. I think also as a manager, you know you need to give your team permission to have those breaks, and to go out and chat to the neighbours for five minutes. It may not be work collaboration but those are the breaks that give our brain the space to actually come back and do something because at home, you can sit down at nine and suddenly realise you've missed lunch and it's two o'clock because you've concentrated so hard with no distractions. And although that gets a lot of work done it's not exactly very healthy is it?
Tara: No, absolutely. I think it's so important. I think at the beginning of lockdown it was that shift with lots of people working from home, and then feeling that they had to be accountable all the time. Somebody called them - they had to be answering or they had to respond to an email and they actually don’t You wouldn't do that if you were in the office and it's okay not to do at home. So long as you're getting your work done and things are happening, you don't have to do that and I think also the flexibility of work. Everybody's been having to speak up and they've got kids to look after or caring responsibilities and other things that they're trying to balance and that flexibility in work I think has been really good as well in allowing people to do things.
Lynn: So that kind of takes us on to the next question I was going to ask you because people have more responsibilities than just work. We're talking an awful lot about inclusivity in our roles as disability practitioners. So, what does that mean for you and your team at TPT?
Tara: Inclusivity? Yes, I think, in terms of the work that we do at TPT, that one of the key and important things has been around technology, actually, and making sure the systems we have are accessible. It's at the heart of everything that we do. And we have quite a large partially sighted workforce as well. So obviously there's that kind of inclusivity around that. And then there is that inclusivity around ensuring that people are able to do the job and balance all of their other kinds of work streams that are happening. And from the Student Support service team and our Education Team, one of the things that I'm really aware of with inclusivity is about how we include all students. How we can engage with them. So, we always think of different ways of engaging: you have our online information; people can contact our team directly by phone line or by email; and they can join our different groups. But we're also, at the moment, recruiting for a temporary role for three months. What we tried to do with that role, as well, was to fit that within the summer term break so that we can encourage applications from students, and we can be flexible. So, it's for three months but actually we can be really flexible about whether it's two months or a bit longer to fit around the successful candidates. Because one of the things that we're really aware of, is that quite often students are so busy, advocating for all of the support that they need, that when it comes to the employment side, the work experience, their CV, it's not as strong as their peers. So, when we create opportunities, we also think about how we can include students in meaningful way. That is a paid opportunity to get involved in the work that we do. We've had quite a lot of interest so far. I'm really looking forward to bringing that expertise of the student intern, being able to give them some meaningful project-based work experience between their summer break, to kind of move on. So we're always thinking of different ways that we might include students but also our wider workforce in into the work that we do.
Lynn: It's interesting. When I was doing my Master's, I found some research (and I've never been able to find it again) talking about the fact that disabled students are spending three to five times as much time on their work because of everything they have to organise and do and redo. And, of course, that will vary between various impairments but I would love to find the research again, I think it'd be a really good piece of research to do now when we're hearing the government say that students can afford to pay the first £200 for a computer from their DSAs, and we're talking about students who can't work part time and haven't been able to work part time because there's literally not enough hours in the day to organise their support and work properly at a speed that suits them, and they might need to go over stuff because they've missed stuff. So, I think it's an important piece of research we need to commission at some point, in order to try and get some good stats so we've got the figures to produce the government to say ‘No, it doesn't work for disabled students and this is why’.
Tara: I think that would be brilliant and, you know, from my experience of some of the students who we have supported, some students have had to push exams back for over the summer, so they don't have time over the summer, there is no free time. Those exams aren't because they weren't able to sit them, it's because the exam, wasn't going to be accessible for them. So, they weren't actually able to access them. So, even though they've been doing everything, all of that kind of work on top of advocating and then still wasn't accessible, then exam is in the summer so there is actually no time to work and they need to get the summer for headspace and a break between the academic years which is what the summers there for as well. Yeah, I think a piece of research to help to give us that evidence to have these conversations because if we're really serious about breaking down these barriers, I think we really need to understand what they are, and then yeah, I think that would be brilliant.
Lynn: Yeah, we'll have to do something about that. We'll have a chat again about that one and also include some of the other organisations and see if we can get something between us for that research because it's going to be slightly different in different areas. Yes, I'm keen on that one. We're running out of time rapidly here, but I'd like to ask you one final question. What's the biggest challenge you have with your specific role? And do you have any ideas on how you're going to overcome it?
Tara: Yeah, and it's a really good question and I think it's something I've been thinking about a lot in terms of bringing our employment work and coming together. I think one of our biggest challenges is how do we reach everybody that we want to reach? I mean vision impairment is a low incidence disability, and then the numbers are even lower when they go on to mainstream college and then even lower when they move on to university. So, it's about how can we reach these students?
But also I think the biggest challenge is really going to be about understanding what are the biggest barriers and how we can address those. I think it's going to be around FE and some of the stuff about how we're going to be able to do that. I think the coming together of our education team is really exciting. I think that is going to provide opportunities, but also through the relationships that we have from yourself, through NADP, and other relationships that we're building, in terms of reaching people that way, through other networks. We're never going to meet everybody, directly ourselves so I think he's about using these different networks that are out there. And we've got some work around building up some of those relationships around, and with FE, as well.
So, I think there's some other things that we'll be thinking about kind of going forward and reaching out there. And when we first launched our service, people mainly could only contact us via email, but we now have a manned phone line two days a week. So, we really want to do lots of promotion through that and that we're opening up different channels and ways for people to be able to reach our service.
So, I think we've got lots of kind of big plans for this year going forward. And I think that's the thing is also a challenge - having lots of ideas but actually streamlining them. So you do the things that are going to have the biggest impact and you do something well; rather trying to do everything at once. everything is always a challenge to kind of rein in enthusiasm of my team. We're all very enthusiastic and want to do a lot so yeah just try and be strategic with that. As I said, we've got some research projects going on at the moment. We've got some information that we're gathering. We're starting to build those relationships. We're quite excited about this next financial year that we're in, going forward.
Lynn: Okay, well thank you very much. It's been great talking to you. I know I've learned a lot about what you're doing and what you're planning to do. And I think we can work together in future, really quite closely, to deliver some of these things, and help you access our members, and hopefully get some sort of snowball effect with the build-up of people contacting each other with this. So, thank you very much.
Tara: Thank you. I think it's been so great to speak with you and to talk about our work and I agree, I look forward to working with NADP going forward.