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The Social: "All people need is to be given the chance"

Meet the Sheffield social enterprise on a mission to support people with learning disabilities and mental health issues to access work.

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The Social

Walking into The Social, you’re greeted with a real buzz. There's a range of workshops hosted at the venue on Snig Hill and it's always a hive of activity. Managed by social enterprise Yes2Ventures, the 'city centre meeting point' opened in February this year, continuing the mission of its founder to open up employment opportunities in Sheffield.

Yes2Ventures was set up by Mark Powell in 1999, initially under the name The Anthony Davison Trust, with the aim of setting up and supporting social enterprises that offer training and employment for those who are disadvantaged in the labour market.

The organisation works mostly with people with learning disabilities, providing them with a host of training and upskilling sessions that can help them gain the employability skills they need to enter the workforce. The Social works with Sheffield Council, the DWP and various other bodies to support as many people as they can, as well as forging connections with the communities they work with.

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The Social

As a former teacher, social worker and community worker, Powell has a long and rich history working with people with learning disabilities. When he moved to Sheffield in 1989, he set up a plastics reclamation enterprise which would go on to become one of the UK's leading social businesses, through which he employed a workforce of adults with learning disabilities and mental health issues.

“People tend to be surprised that those with learning disabilities or mental health difficulties can both do and excel in a job, but it shouldn’t be surprising. All they need is to be given the chance,” Powell explains.

Employability training and upskilling programmes include kitchen work which involves the preparation of raw foods for local businesses. These programmes prepare people for work in the catering industry whilst also paying them a wage. Other programmes cover picture framing, manufacturing and hospitality.

“People deserve to be given the same opportunities as everyone else to access work if they want to. It just requires more thinking around the 'how',” says Powell.

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The Social

Another string to the Social's bow is the help it offers to people navigating the job market itself, both in finding opportunities and submitting an application. Powell says this is “yet another part of the labour market that can be inaccessible to many of the people we work with."

The Social also hosts a series of activities and workshops that offer participants "a safe space to express their creative side and feel more confident in themselves,” including print making, painting, origami and circus skills.

Many of the items produced during these sessions are used in the venue itself - origami art decorates the tables in the bar area of The Social, for example - or they are put on sale, with profits going back to the creator.

“We want to support and create real opportunities for people who are disadvantaged in the workplace," Powell says. "The current systems in place are just not suited to people with learning disabilities - and our mission is to do something about that.”

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