| Helen Sharp
Case study: The Skillnet Group
I first came across the Skillnet Group when I was shown this film on co-production. It demonstrates what can be achieved when control and power is truly shared across participants and people’s skills, abilities and passions are properly mobilised.
How the Group got started
One of the founders of the Group called Jo Kidd had been due to meet with a group of people with learning difficulties at a sheltered workshop. However the workshop was closed down. Jo decided to meet with the people anyway to find out what they wanted to do. It soon became clear that they wanted the skills to move into work, be more independent and have real control over their lives. They wanted a say on who supported them, what they learnt and full involvement in decision making.
The Skillnet Group was created as a result in 2001. It is a social enterprise made up of people with and without learning difficulties working together to achieve equality. They run co-produced social businesses offering paid work and work experience to people with learning difficulties and other disadvantaged people. They also support people individually and in groups to learn and achieve.
One of their social businesses is a music and recording studio in Canterbury, and if you watch the film you’ll see it in action and hear some inspirational stories from the staff. Since inception, their range of social businesses has broadened to include sport, catering and drama and they now run their own cafe.
The Skillnet Group follows the social model of disability. They believe the first things we should see in a person are their humanity, qualities, abilities and potential. Understanding any impairment they may have is very important, but secondary. They believe it is society’s failure to adapt to a person’s impairment that disables them. So it is possible to organise society and change attitudes so that someone with a learning difficulty can play a full part, and therefore not be disabled.
The Group also focus some of their work on campaigning as well as training individuals and organisations to shift the way they support people with learning difficulties. They are an example of an organisation that based its values on co-production and many years on, continues to grow from strength to strength.
Photo by Àlex Folguera