Learning Disability Today
Supporting professionals working in learning disability and autism services

Learning through volunteering

While they can be difficult to find, there are several organisations keen to give people with learning difficulties access to services that promote independence and opportunities within the community.

“I feel calm at The Platform – it is such a relaxed atmosphere.”

At Quarryfields in Doncaster the people in our care highlighted that access to volunteering and education opportunities was important for their independence and confidence. Following feedback from our residents, an initiative called The Platform was developed to provide volunteering opportunities within a pop-up shop. Not only was it designed to give people true ownership of a project, but also to help them develop a range of skills to help them reach their goal of volunteering in the wider community.

The Platform’s pop-up shop – which changes every 12 weeks and always serves great coffee – is run entirely by residents of Quarryfields under the supervision of staff including a teacher and an occupational therapist.


Residents worked together throughout all stages of developing and delivering the concept – from choosing the décor and counting the loan money from Exemplar Health Care, to buying stock and materials, to visiting coffee roasters to learn more about blending and roasting coffee beans, to baking treats to sell in the coffee shop, and even creating the uniforms.

Doncaster Paralympic medal-winner-turned-actor, Kevin Davies cut the ribbon to officially open the pop-up shop on the 25th April, and since then the positive effects of volunteering and taking ownership of the business have been clear to see. Education Facilitator, Heather Johnson has seen an increase in confidence across The Platform team and is hopeful that the volunteers will be able to utilise their new skills in other business settings.

Regular volunteer at The Platform, Mark Wigley said: “I really enjoy baking at The Platform, volunteering there gives me the opportunity to learn new skills and try out new recipes”, while Michael Allen commented, “I have learnt new skills at The Platform; working with customers and keeping everything clean and hygienic. I feel calm at The Platform, it is such a relaxed atmosphere.”

Alongside the day-to-day running and mid-term plans for the shop, an entry level volunteer course has been written to be more accessible for people with learning disabilities than similar courses with traditional education establishments. Due to the inclusion of the course, there is greater opportunity for us to involve other people from wider community groups, and those with learning disabilities who do not require our home services.

The next phase of The Platform will see the team work with groups in the local area to create more opportunities for people with learning disabilities who aren’t necessarily residents of Quarryfields. The Platform has changed the lives of those involved and long-term plans include sharing details of the project more widely to facilitate the opening of pop-up shops run by people with learning disabilities across the UK.


If you are considering how you could develop an initiative like The Platform for people in your care, here are some of our recommendations:

  • Involve the group you are trying to provide opportunities for in all areas of your project. This might mean that you must adapt your language and timelines to ensure that your group take the information on board, but it is important to allow individuals to have a high level of ownership of the project so that it can be developed in line with each group’s aims and interests.
  • Be patient. Building confidence can take time and being involved in the project might be too daunting for some to begin with. By allowing time for the information and plans to be digested, it is more likely that your group will be able to be enthusiastic and keen to be involved.
  • Involve others. The benefit of creating an asset for the wider local community is that the group of people involved will have a greater opportunity to interact with others and gain more from their experience. You may also be able to support another local business by choosing them as a supplier

Gill Greenall is Home Manager at Quarryfields Care Home in Doncaster.

More information about the pop-up in Doncaster can be found on The Platform website.

Exemplar Health Care provides specialist nurse-led care homes for adults with complex needs arising from neuro-disability, brain injury and stroke, enduring mental ill-health, autism, learning disability and early-onset dementia.


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