How the Cascade Centre is changing lives for the unemployed in Doncaster

Some 15 years ago, Brenda Lonsdale's life was changed forever.

Thursday, 5th April 2018, 11:35 am
Brenda Lonsdale, of Carcroft, Michael Lowth, of Intake, with Jackie Hewitt-Main at Cascade, Marshgate, Doncaster

Brenda, now aged 44, had been out riding her motorscooter. But she was involved in a crash that left her with serious head injuries.

She was knocked off the scooter, and spent five days in hospital.

It had a major effect on her life, to the extent that her personality changed, and her reading and writing became slower.

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She had worked as a cleaner before her injuries - but she had to give it up.

But in 2015, she was put onto a pilot scheme being run for Doncaster Job Centre. The idea was to try to help people with serious learning difficulties to get back into work.

The plan was to use an organisation called The Cascade Centre, which had been working with former prisoners and inmates in Doncaster prison.

In the two years since it had started working with the prison, Cascade had shown impressive results. Those taking part in its project, which saw it working with people with conditions such as ADHD and dyslexia, saw their re-offending rate fall to three per cent. The national average is 30 per cent, said Cascade founder Jackie Hewitt-Main.

Brenda's confidence had been shattered by what happened to her in 2003. But that confidence is now being put back together.

She has been working on her skills, and has seen her reading and writing improve.

She is not yet back in paid work yet, but Brenda, from Carcroft, is now doing voluntary work with both the Cascade Foundation itself, and with the British Heart Foundation charity shop.

"I came here in 2015, because the job centre thought I needed help in reading and writing," she said. "I had been out of work for a long time and me confidence had been knocked."

Jackie said Brenda was very shy when she first arrived, but had now taken others on the programme under her wing, while working two days a week for the BHF. She said she was doing work she would never previously have been able to do.

She is not the only one to have progressed through the project.

Also taking part in the same pilot scheme was Michael Lowth, a 62 year old from Intake, who suffered from a stammer and self confidence problems.

He is also now doing voluntary work at the NHF and with Cascade.

"I had no confidence in myself," he said. "I had been looking for work, and the job centre suggested I came down here. Jackie saw my potential in helping others, so now I'm a mentor.

"I'm helping people get on with their lives and I'm a lot happier."

Jackie said: "It is all about building a a good CV so they can get jobs. For people like Brenda and Michael the change has been great."

Jackie set up the foundation which teaches, mentors and supports people who have have hidden disabilities including dyslexia, head-injury or other learning difficulties. It also trains volunteers to be mentors and learning coaches.

She was inspired to start it after her own son suffered a head injury in a car crash in 1998, and she researched new ways to help him.

Her methods look at diet and the way people learn.

For instance, some of her clients during her work with the prison were asked to change their breakfast habits, Instead of cereals with a high sugar content, they would be encouraged to have foods like porridge. They are also shown how to cook properly, putting them in a better position to look after themselves properly.

Those who had dyslexia would be encouraged to learn by doing - using methods that did not rely on reading.

Following the initial pilot in 2017, the full time scheme with the Job Centre was started late last year. for people with the equivalent reading age of a nine year old. This year that has been extended to people who have the reading age equivalent to a child starting school for the first time.

"The learners need to learn how they learn, that is whether they learn visually, by listening, or by doing. Everyone is different. For some it may be with a video, for some it may be role playing," said Jackie.

Among the activities that are offered to the students have been trips to Doncaster Market to run a stall. It gives them experience working with money, and dealing with other people.

"Each individual has skills, but no one has shown them what they are. That's where we're helping," said Jackie.

Jackie Hewitt-Main has had plenty to celebrate this month.

She visited Buckingham Palace to collect her OBE, for services to prisoners, which was presented to her by Prince William.

She said: "I was going to tell him about what I do - but he already knew all about me.

"I was so proud to meet him and receive my OBE."