In our regular series, we interview new arrivals and members at Sussex Innovation about their business, why they joined and their plans for growth. Today Catalyst team member, Busola chats with the Down Syndrome Development Trust.   

Tell me a bit about the Down Syndrome Development Trust  

The charity has been running since 2013, set up by Shinae Smallwood. It started as another charity for young people with Down Syndrome and special educational needs, which progressed into the Down Syndrome Development Trust. We provide different services such as training and advice for parents and teachers, communication and social groups. The different activities we provide for enhancing social development and life skills increase the confidence and self-esteem of people with Down syndrome. 

Are you working on any exciting projects? 

The Social Learning Hub. For the first six-week block of the project, we had six users with Down syndrome who buddied up with university students who are studying here at Sussex. They would do whatever they  wanted to do, from going to the gym to sorting out daily tasks, with the university buddy there to assist. We have now incorporated a kind of work experience element to it, which is called the Lending a Hand project.  

This project involves the businesses around this Innovation Centre sharing tasks, whether it is collecting post or shredding documents, or bringing books back and forth, that they would be happy for our users to assist with a voluntary basis. And the young adults that we have with Down syndrome would take ownership of this in more of a work experience capacity, rather than as a social situation.  

What is your biggest success?  

Where we recognise success is in the individual; we really focus on each individual person that we support. The main success is seeing the growth and development in these young people’s skills. Everything that we provide, would not be readily available to them otherwise. It is particularly important for us to meet their needs and watch them succeed. 

A good example is with one of our recent projects, the sports youth training programme. It was held over a four day period in September, for young adults to learn how to become sport coaches. They were trained on everything to do with sports, then held a session for primary school aged children.  

What has been your biggest challenge?  

The biggest challenge is finding the funding that we need constantly so that we can provide the services. The other challenge is that the demand for our services is rising year on year and it is difficult to meet that demand. To be able to effectively do this, we need more workforce to provide more projects and services. For example, we have a long waitlist of people who want tutoring services. To be able to get this done we need the funds to provide the tutor. And so, it is just a constant trying to meet the demand, which is rising and rising rapidly. 

Why did you decide to join Sussex Innovation?  

To include our young people in university life so that they can meet and facilitate relationships within the community, as well as use the facilities at the university. Aside from all the opportunities that the university holds, in terms of their facilities and things they can access, the whole social side of integrating with the wider community has been massive for our users.  

What does the future hold ?

We are growing year on year. We have recently got a big grant from the National Lottery, which has made a massive difference. So, in terms of the future, we are growing with our young people. We are ultimately looking to be able to help with all ages, but for now our focus at is the Social Learning Hub, which is for teenagers. Then we are looking to help provide supported housing, so that is another one of our projects for the future.

If your business can support the Down Syndrome Development Trust with their Lending a Hand project, contact Alastair here.

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