Creating new opportunities for young people

Six young people with learning disabilities stand in a line. They are in a classroom and are all wearing white lab coats. They have large magnifying glasses which they are holding up to their eyes. They are laughingLightyear Foundation at New Fosseway School

Our young people are living greatly restricted lives, as like all of us they follow the lockdown rules. That’s why we are so pleased to see the young people at New Fosseway Special School enjoying an environment themed science club. The ‘Virtual Lab’ programme co-created by disabled young people aims to inspire and unite disabled teens through a passion for science. We awarded the Lightyear Foundation a grant for the project in January 2021 through The YP-Two Fund.

Coronavirus has hit disabled people and their families disproportionally. A Disabled Children’s Partnership study showed 71% of disabled children have worse emotional and mental health and 79% of parents say their own is worse too

Katie Sparkes – CEO, Lightyear Foundation

Tackling isolation among disabled teens

Katie says: “Our Virtual Lab programme has been designed with disabled young people for disabled people and it’s currently being run with children from New Fosseway Special School in Hartcliffe. As you can see in the pictures, they’ve got off to a flying start, planting seeds and learning about renewable energy. They’ve been building their own wind turbines, plus a hair dryer came in handy to recreate the effect.”

As well as harnessing science and technology (STEM) potential, the Virtual Lab acts as a social club as students also have the opportunity to join the Virtual Lab Alumni events, helping to reduce social isolation which is a big issue among disabled young people.

Harnessing potential

Katie explains: “Many of the young people we engage with will have low science capital or believe that science is not for them but have been identified as having real potential to succeed. Through our work, we’ve found those with Special Educational Needs often have an affinity with STEM subjects and many ‘disabilities’ are in fact advantageous. For example fine attention to detail/comfort in repetition are skills of a successful researcher and common to those with autism. Yet despite this, the employment rate for people with a learning disability is less than 6%. In order to change this, we need to create opportunities so that young people can prove to themselves and others the potential they have to achieve great things.”

Katie Sparkes has personal experience of disability as her daughter has cerebral palsy. She’s also received many awards including Outstanding Young Person of The World, The Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service, Independent’s ‘Happy List’ and a Point of Light Award from the Prime Minister.

Rapid Quartet funding helps secure large match funding grant

Ronnie Brown from Quartet Community Foundation said: “We’re so glad we could support this project to build confidence, skills and aspiration among local disabled young people. This grant helped the group secure £20,158 in match-funding, so is a great example of working with others to create opportunities for our local young people.”


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