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The Chester Bluecoat Charity is delighted to announce the provision of a grant to The Bren Project, helping them to extend their vital reach. Based off Kingsway in Chester, The Bren Project aims to open up the world of work to people with learning disabilities and autism by offering vocational training and work experience placements.

People with learning difficulties and autism can be some of the most isolated and marginalised people in society and can face many barriers when trying to access employment. In England, less than 2 in 10 adults with a mild or moderate learning disability are in employment. The work of the Bren Project challenges, addresses and breaks down these barriers and helps integration into society whilst giving the participant a sense of purpose.

Founded nearly two decades ago, The Bren Project initially provides training to beneficiaries at Bren Bikes, an in-house bike repair and recycling social enterprise. Beneficiaries work in the bike repair shop alongside volunteer mentors called ‘Brengineers’ where they learn both how to repair bikes but also crucial work environment skills such as weekly schedules, dress code and being part of a team. It is an inclusive, safe and welcoming environment enabling participants to become more motivated, confident and capable.

If the participant is ready, they then undertake work experience in the public, private or voluntary sector. Placements are always chosen by the participant and are safe and well supported thanks to a one-to-one job coach from The Bren Project. The 8 week placement develops independence and supports participants to move into employment or volunteering, wherever possible. Since inception, The Bren Project has created over 400 work placements in various places, including supermarkets, restaurants, charities and IT companies.

Not only does the work placement have a positive impact on the life of the beneficiary, there are also many benefits to the local economy. As the beneficiaries contribute to the work of the host employer, it has been estimated that since 2007, the financial contribution to the employers is more than £150,000. The employers have also found their staff can become more nurturing and empathetic following the placements.

The Bren Project has numerous success stories, showing just how vital their work is. Peter came to The Bren Project after a period of inactivity and following his initial Bren Bikes placement, went to Waitrose because his dream job was to work in a supermarket. He gained lots of experience and his confidence quickly grew. His high standard of work impressed the manager and after the placement, Peter was offered a permanent position at Waitrose.

Another example of how life-changing The Bren Project can be is with a man called Greg who was highly qualified in IT and computer systems, but anxiety due to Asperger’s syndrome was holding him back. Greg joined Bren Bikes for 8 weeks, coming out of his shell immediately. Following this, he was given a placement at an IT company called Pro-Networks. Greg shone during his placement and his experience, ability and attitude led to the company offering him a permanent position as a hardware engineer.   

The Bren Project applied to The Chester Bluecoat Charity for £5,000 for costs to be able to support to 50-60 people during 2023. Demand for the Bren Project has always been oversubscribed but with increased financial support, more will be able to access the service.

The Chester Bluecoat Charity focuses on bringing about lasting change to prevent people from being disadvantaged in poverty or isolated from society. As the Bren Project aims to build foundations from which to develop, gain independence and grow, thus addressing inequality and isolation, The Chester Bluecoat Charity was delighted to be able to support them.