On World Autism Awareness Week, we spoke to Samuel Lucy AIH, Manager at The Portland Guesthouse, where adults with autism are given the opportunity to train and develop a rewarding career in hospitality.
True inclusivity within Hospitality; The scale of autism has a common discomfort… a social one, but it is slowly changing.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. One in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Those with autism are often misunderstood due to a lack of understanding from wider society.
At The Portland Guesthouse, our mission statement is to provide high quality accommodation to the public and offer training and experience to vulnerable adults, including those with autism. Based in the heart of Cheltenham, England, the iconic racecourse is less than a mile from the front door and the world-famous Literature festival a short walk away. However, location is rivalled by the social responsibility of the charity owned guesthouse and the training course opportunities offered to some of the county’s most vulnerable adults.
Our offerings provide vulnerable adults; including those with autism the one thing most employers in most industries over look, opportunity. In a safe and welcoming environment, the team possess a balance of care work and hospitality skills enabling our service users to gain the best of their experience. Set up as a project of Gloucestershire based charity St Vincent’s & St George’s Association, The Portland intwines a teaching course with its day to day running.
For many of the adults who will be supported, the opportunity will be their first experience within a work environment. Therefore, the courses are tailored to their additional needs. Working alongside local hospitality businesses, we will be networking in readiness to support the students in finding a paid role within the industry upon completion of the course. The modules include customer service, housekeeping, food preparation and legislations with the entire course being accredited as a recognised NVQ or fully endorsed in the near future.
The benefit in the offering comes from the adaptability of our team in establishing and working with individual needs. Taking autism as an example, autistic people have their own strengths and weaknesses like all of society. As a spectrum condition, it affects people in different ways herein lying the problem for many in finding employment and subsequent understanding from managers with little knowledge of the condition.
To highlight just some of the challenge’s autism presents that should be recognised in the workplace; social communication, some autistic people will require extra time to process information presented to them and two autistic people might require the information to be presented in different formats to understand fully. Repetitive or restrictive behaviour can be used by autistic people as a calming method, but also as routine is an enjoyment to many.
Those with autism can also become highly focused on interests and hobbies. Demonstrating such focus can help many with autism succeed in a workplace environment. As an employer and trainer, we’re demonstrating the advantages autistic people can bring to the workplace. Providing the steppingstone for trainees to become comfortable and safe in a working environment, whilst working towards the qualification demonstrating to employers the whole pool of talent potentially being excluded due to academic results on a CV.
We work with a range of vulnerable adults including people with other learning disabilities or mental health issues. There has been a big step forward in recent years with the attitude towards disabilities in the workplace, however there is more to be done.
The set up and provision of the training has not come without difficulties (in addition to the pandemic!). The Portland decided to create their own training course due to the English and Maths barriers of many existing courses. In addition, the students who have already started gaining experience have varying degrees of ability and with such a small team of two this can become demanding and will prompt expansion when bookings return to suitable occupancy.
Advice to other hospitality businesses would first and foremost be to look beyond the qualifications. Can you afford to exclude or restrict a talented, enthusiastic pool of candidates? Even in the early stages of the project it is clear to see that the personalities and abilities of the service users would be simply overlooked on a CV in many organisations. We are committed to only putting forward candidates for roles who we have witnessed have the ability and desire to succeed, alleviating a concern for many businesses. In addition, don’t be nervous about employing staff with autism or other learning disabilities, physical disabilities in suitable workplaces; complex needs or mental health issues. Given a nurturing safe environment they will thrive and be a reliable asset to the organisation.
If you would like to discuss the project run by The Portland Guesthouse or provide better opportunities to those with autism or any vulnerable adults send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01242 906600.
World Autism Awareness Week runs from 29 March – 4 April.