Transforming lives - how Onward Enterprises in Thetford has helped adults with learning difficulties for the past 25 years
- Credit: Archant
Many of us take for granted the normality of a workplace where we make friends and are respected for our talents.
But Onward Enterprises has helped people with learning disabilities realise their dreams of the ordinary working life they have struggled to find, despite their obvious skills.
The organisation was founded by Peter and Marjorie Sindall in Harleston in 1990, after Mr Sindall took early retirement to set it up.
He was given Norfolk County Council funding to give people with learning difficulties and mental health problems the chance to experience a real life working environment.
Although Onward Enterprises is a non-profit community interest company, it is run like any other factory packaging business – so people who go there can treat it as a normal job, like their friends and relatives might have.
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And as the Thetford branch of the organisation – which caters for people from Thetford, Watton, Attleborough, Bury St Edmunds and the surrounding area – celebrated its 25th anniversary, families who have benefited from Onward Enterprises said it has helped to transform lives.
Thetford business owner Simon Samuel, whose sister Amanda attends the service, said: 'If people like my sister didn't have a place like this to come, they would be behind the scenes. A lot would be in their own homes.'
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The owner of Breckland Shipping, who also volunteers at Onward Enterprises, added: 'They would very much be on their own. They would not be getting out and meeting more people and broadening their horizons.
'Not only is it important for them to work in a normal community, but it is important for other people to recognise what these guys are about and that they need support to fulfill their potential.
'My sister is an example – it has helped her personal skills and developed her confidence.
'It gives people the confidence to go into a shop a buy something – that's something we would take for granted.
'They feel like they have got some sort of purpose. This is a facility that enables them to express themselves.
'I think people are really touched by it and want to do everything they can to encourage it.'
Rachel Allum-Sindall, managing director of Onward Enterprises and daughter of the founders, said: 'Onward Enterprises was one of the first providers to offer this service.
'In the early 1990s, social workers were picking up a lot of people who had done all their college courses and wanted to be like their mums and dads and have their own place.
'For many people here, it's their job. Many people here would find the pressures of industry too difficult to keep up with.
'However, we could be a stepping stone to employment.'
She added that the organisation's motto is 'valuing people, valuing industry, valuing communities'.
Onward Enterprises also has a vibrant social scene, with an annual holiday to Butlins and plenty of activities during the working week.
The team also produces several plays every year, including a Christmas pantomime.
'Onward Enterprises is to show people what we can do and achieve given the opportunity,' Mrs Allum-Sindall explained.
She added that the team prides itself on the quality of its work, tendering for contracts alongside other companies.
It will break some tasks into smaller chunks to make them manageable for some members of the team – but Mrs Allum-Sindall said: 'We don't want any sympathy from industry.'
Genevra Champion, group marketing manager for Antistat in Bury St Edmunds – a production company which has used Onward Enterprises for assembly work for 10 years – said the quality of the work is 'exceptional'.
She added: 'The owner of our company is very philanthropic and believes this company can do what we need.
'People can sometimes be pushed aside because they don't conform with what society regards as normal.
'It is about giving something back to the community, giving people an opportunity and doing business ethically.'
Onward Enterprises in Thetford celebrated its 25th anniversary with a party at its Telford Way premises on Thursday, July 20, which included cream teas and cakes provided by Antistat and a disco.