I’ve written about the social enterprise activity linked to Dylan’s care setting in previous blog posts. This is a craft and horticulture enterprise with a small retail outlet through which the produce and makings are sold to members of the public. The residents at the home are fully involved in the enterprise and work in the shop, supported by members of staff and the social enterprise coordinator.
When Dylan first moved to the residential setting I didn’t pay much attention to this aspect of the provision. While I supported the principle behind the initiative it wasn’t something I thought Dylan would access; he had never shown any interest in gardening, small animal care or crafts, as a child or adult, so it’s fair to say that I viewed the social enterprise activity on Dylan’s timetable with scepticism.
How wrong I would turn out to be. Dylan’s regular afternoon sessions in the shop proved a great hit with Dylan and the source of some of his most significant learning. Since Dylan moved to the residential setting, just over two years ago, he has taken part in a range of activities including woodwork, jam-making, gardening and the production of arts and crafts. Dylan has also worked in the shop, serving customers.
One of the factors which seemed to be key to Dylan’s engagement with the social enterprise activity was the coordinator (I’ll call him A) with whom Dylan developed an excellent relationship. Dylan seemed to realise that A had a different role to the other staff at the home and this allowed Dylan to adopt a different approach to the relationship. The difference is subtle but significant; because the coordinator is not involved in personal care, an alternative form of trust and closeness was able to develop.
There have been many highlights to the social enterprise activity which Dylan has taken part in since he moved to residential care but the one I would pick out, first and foremost, is his woodwork. One day, apparently, A noticed Dylan gazing over the fence which separates the home from a neighbour’s property. Dylan was transfixed by the neighbour’s shed where a range of woodworking tools were kept. When this happened on several occasions, A decided to take Dylan to a local lumberyard in order to choose some wood and begin a simple project using some basic woodworking tools.
The results were quite extraordinary. Dylan demonstrated a love of working in wood and some good skills. In time, he was producing goods for sale in the shop. Dylan, apparently, had several orders from members of the community for these wooden planters, which I was informed by A represented ‘90% Dylan’s own work’ (including the painting, which Dylan also enjoys).
Another highlight of last year’s enterprise activity was when residents at the home entered some of their produce in the local agricultural show. Dylan took 3rd prize for his strawberry jam and another resident was awarded first prize for a pot of apricot and passion fruit. These entries were judged alongside produce from across the region so it was an amazing achievement – and as A pointed out to me, ‘strawberry jam’ is a popular category so Dylan did really well. The icing on the cake (or the ‘toast under the jam’) is that all of this activity has been recorded in support of a folder of work towards an ASDAN qualification.
When Dylan moved to residential care I was told that health stream funding would mean an end to formal education for Dylan. It is through Dylan’s residential place, however, that he has accessed the only educational provision he has received since leaving school at 19. The ASDAN framework for these activities is, of course, a plus; what is important is that Dylan has enjoyed the activities and engaged in some valuable learning. As the basis for personal development, the social enterprise activity has been fantastic.
One of the unexpected bonuses of Dylan’s relationship with A has been ‘brum brum’ time. Dylan has a deep interest in vehicles. He loves to watch me drive and often ‘asks’ me about the controls, particularly the gear stick, which fascinates him. Staff noticed that Dylan would often stand watching as A cut the grass with the ride-on mower. ‘Brum brum’, Dylan said one day. After discussion, it was decided that Dylan would be allowed to ride with A (without grass-cutting blades) in order to get a close-up experience of driving. For Dylan this was joy indeed!
You might have detected my use of past tense and references to ‘last year’ rather than present time. The reason is that since the end of the summer, following A’s departure for a new job, the programme of social enterprise activities has been on hold. I was surprised and (selfishly) disappointed by the news of A’s resignation, but not exactly shocked; the departure of Dylan’s much-loved key worker earlier in the year had alerted me to the fact that staff move on and that Dylan’s life in residential care will be a series of Hellos and Goodbyes.
This is difficult as Dylan forms strong bonds and attachments. Dylan has struggled in the past with the sudden absence of loved people; the death of his grandmother and his sister leaving home are significant examples but there have also been school and care staff who Dylan has missed enormously when they have moved on. For this reason, I was anxious about how Dylan would react to A leaving; not only would there be an interruption in the scheduling of activities which Dylan has come to enjoy, he would surely miss having A in his life more generally?
In the event I didn’t see any obvious reaction from Dylan in the weeks following A’s departure; Dylan was unsettled some days, but not in a way which could be specifically linked. I was mildly surprised. Perhaps Dylan hadn’t enjoyed the social enterprise activity as much as I imagined? Maybe he thought A was on holiday and would return? Or could Dylan be more flexible than I thought? I was a little disappointed as well as relieved; while I was glad Dylan didn’t seem distressed, part of me had wanted it to be important enough to Dylan to miss and mourn.
Then, in the last two or three weeks, a development. One of the support staff has been opening up the shop one afternoon a week in order to keep things ticking over until a new coordinator is appointed. Dylan pointed at the shop one day, insisting ‘Chri’. It took me a while to realise that Dylan was saying ‘Christmas’. Social enterprise time has been used to make wreaths and hampers to sell in the shop, in previous years, and although Dylan has only lived at the home for a relatively short time this must have become an important way marker for him. While Dylan had coped with the interruption of his regular social enterprise activity, he was not going to accept the absence of Christmas activity. So last week Dylan made a wreath for our door and put together a hamper for his Granddad…
What I am struck by is how important these seasonal rhythms are to Dylan. I suppose if you don’t use speech to communicate and have only limited communication, ’embodied’ sense-making through familiar activities is important. I have often thought of Dylan as needing consistency in his life but perhaps it would be more accurate to think of him as needing constancy. The difference between the two is that consistent things do not vary, though they may start and stop, whereas something that is constant does not stop, although it may vary. Dylan seems to be able to manage everyday variations – the absence of a face, a change of detail – providing the anchoring rhythms remain.
The closing date for applications for the coordinator role has now passed and I am fingers and toes crossed that Dylan can get back to his woodworking and ASDAN qualifications soon 🙂