Diagrama's Erasmus project continues in Belgium

26 May 2022
Erasmus, E-profid, Kortrijk

Diagrama has embarked on an Erasmus +, a two-year project, working with partner organisations across Europe – it is the E-PROFID project. The E-PROFID project is built on a foundation of innovation and transfer of good practice with organisations from diverse backgrounds serving different client groups, working together to design tools and methods to change the public's perception, by promoting ability, rather than accepting disability.

The Erasmus Plus programme is funded by the European Union and is designed to give all people access to lifelong learning, regardless of their education or social circumstances.

The aim of the E-Profid project is to train Care Workers to develop new ways of supporting people with disabilities, especially those living in residential centres. The project has three main objectives;

1. Help change the public’s perception of “Disabilities”, by celebrating “Abilities”

2. Develop residents’ “Professional Identity”, celebrating and sharing skills and talent

3. Train face to face Care Workers to become “Facilitators of Change” using digital and all other communication skills.

It is hoped that through recognising professional identity and diversity, the E-PROFID project will push social change and prove that even severe disability is not a barrier to fulfilment and social inclusion. Together the contributors will create an innovative ‘Facilitator of Change’, training course, combining elements of communication and empowerment, client care, psychology, marketing, employment training in digital management.

To do this staff need to have skills and confidence to develop and implement programmes and to facilitate change, helping clients to develop their professional identity. Learning lessons from the Covid 19 pandemic (and the way the world is changing in any event), we need staff to have skills and confidence to use digital tools to support this work. So project activities include 3 sessions of staff training to specifically focus on digital communication and social inclusion techniques.

These will be held in 2022: April in Belgium; September in Italy; December in UK. The project runs from June 2021 until end of May 2023 and involves Groep Ubuntu, Kortrijk, Belgium, Fundacion Diagrama, Murcia, Spain and University of Salerno, Italy. The project is led by Diagrama Foundation, UK.

The second event in the schedule was a training module hosted by the partner organisation from Belgium, Groep Ubuntu. The basis of the training was to learn exactly what Professional Identity is and how we can use digital tools to promote this concept within wider society. The trainees from the UK were myself, Ceri Pearce, Fundraising Officer for Diagrama Foundation, Leah Mallows from Cabrini House, Diagrama's residential home for adults with learning disabilities in Orpington, Edmund Hay from Diagrama's Supported Living service and Raquel Masip representing Diagrama's Semi Independent service.

Trip No.2 – Kortrijk, Belgium – April 25th-29th 2022

Day 1

Following our arrival in the picturesque city of Kortrijk, we were met by some of the Groep Ubuntu staff who drove us to their coordination centre for introductions and a brief overview of what Groep Ubuntu are all about.

Ubuntu provide ‘real life’ working environments for their clients and have a wide range of abilities within their workplaces. Some of the facilities they have include a bakery, a chocolate factory, an art studio and a clothing line. The products they produce are of the highest quality; Ubuntu does not want people to buy their goods out of pity, but to purchase purely based on the goods themselves.

It was explained to us that Groep Ubuntu have educational coaches who work with each client in finding which job role is best suited to them. Professional identity within Ubuntu is very important to the clients, when they are at work they are potters, chocolatiers, candle makers, not adults with learning disabilities.

Integration in society is key to what Ubuntu are trying to achieve and this is pushed forward within the organisation by the communications team. We were given a presentation on how the strategy of the team is to promote the ideals of complete integration by sharing the professional identity of all their clients. They want to tell the clients’ stories to the wider community, breaking down misconceptions as they do so. At the end of the first day we were left to ponder on Groep Ubuntu’s moto: Being, Becoming, Belonging.

Day 2

Today is the first day of training and it started with a short presentation on professional identity and what it means to Groep Ubuntu. We listened to how the transferrable skills learned within the workplace will help clients in other areas of their life as well as how Ubuntu are seeing an improvement within the mental health of the clients, largely due to a feeling of being part of society.

Kevin, a client at Groep Ubuntu and a potter by trade talked to us about himself. Kevin explained that he attends the pottery workshop 4 days a week and is very proud of what he does. He comes to work by bike everyday ready to produce pottery to be sold in Ubuntu’s shops and online. The skills he has gained from this workshop have enabled him, with the help of the educational coaches, to gain paid employment 1 day a week in a car garage. For this he is very thankful.

We ended the morning with a short talk from Loes, an educational coach at Ubuntu, who explained the mediational interventions of her job before we moved on to visit the workshops of the Boerhof. We saw the kitchens where food is prepared for chutneys or to be made into tapenade. We visited the woodworking studio where the clients were making outstanding quality wooden toys and finally, we saw my personal favourite, the pottery workshop. We were able to see Kevin doing everything he’d just been explaining to us and could see how happy he was in his job.

Lunch was at De Bokes, a small restaurant run by the clients of Ubuntu with an attached shop selling a small range of goods produced in the workshops. As you can imagine, we all ate our lunch rather swiftly to get ample time in the shop! Many of us, including myself, came away with pottery that was very impractical to travel home with, but we bought it nevertheless!

Our afternoon was wrapped up with a quick visit to De Galerie where the bakery, chocolate factory, alcohol packing workshop and an art gallery is located, followed by a quick trip back to Boerhof for presentations from the communications team. We were advised on how to use storytelling and photography in organisational communications, which was very interesting.

Day 3

Today is the day we participated in the workshops alongside the clients. The delegates could attend either the pottery workshop, chocolate factory, kitchen or candle workshop. I chose the pottery and was welcomed by coach An and the team. As part of the training course Ubuntu provided, all Erasmus participants each had to write an assignment based on communicating a client’s ‘story’. It needed to incorporate all that we had been taught about how to address wider society on professional identity of adults with learning disabilities to create a change in perceptions.

I chose to write my assignment about Mike, a 26-year-old potter who works at Boerhof 4 days per week. He couldn’t have been more accommodating to my questions and the whole team were on hand to help me when I attempted to make a plate. It’s much harder than it looks! Today has been a really memorable experience.

Day 4

We started today with a visit to Villa Madiba, a residential home for older adults with learning disabilities or those with more complex needs. Groep Ubuntu have been very mindful in designing the newly built property when it comes to the independence of the clients. Each has their own front door to their room, even though it can also be accessed from the communal areas, meaning any visitors can go directly to the residents as would be the norm if they were in their own homes.

This was followed by a visit to Hoevekaffee Het Gazenhof, a farm and restaurant where clients will grow, pick, cook and serve the food. We ate lunch here and it was a very relaxing place to be with a delicious menu. Anyone can visit and eat at the farm, another example of how Groep Ubuntu are trying to integrate their clients into the local communities.

After lunch we headed to the art workshop and fashion line at KWP De Zandberg and Amili Haha. The extensive space provides inspiration for the artists to create whatever they choose and the fashion line, created and worked on each year by 8 clients and a coach, has sell out collections.

Day 5

It was our final day today and a chance to reflect on all that we had seen and experienced throughout our stay. Each participant read out their assignment from earlier in the week which gave a really varied impression on what professional identity means to us. It seems that we each have differing opinions and it’s interesting to hear other people’s views.

The training this week has been so informative and none of us could have imagined the extent of the Groep Ubuntu organisation. Ubuntu have managed to mix the spending power and reach of a large company with the empathy and compassion of a much smaller enterprise. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time learning from this experience and I’m looking forward to the next visit in the schedule, Salerno, Italy.