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Richard Soutar: Enable Ability [Interview]

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As a city we should be very proud of the work that all of our charities do to provide for those that need support in their lives. Enable Ability, based in Copnor, is one such organisation and Stef Nienaltowski had the great pleasure in meeting Richard Soutar to find out about their work.

They support a wide age range of people and create a wonderful base for those that need it. When you witness their support activities, and the lengths they go to to encourage the disabled people they help, we hope you will marvel in what can be done with limited resources but with very committed volunteers.

we are looking forward to working with Richard and his team to see what Shaping Portsmouth can do to help this very worthwhile charity.

Stef Nienaltowski: Good afternoon, I'm sat talking to Richard, one of the managers at the Enable Ability charity. Good afternoon Richard.

Richard Soutar: Good afternoon Stef.

SN: Richard, the mission statement on your website talks about care, welfare, and the advancement of disabled people in Portsmouth and the surrounding area. Can you tell us a bit more about the Charity, and in fact how you got started?

RS: We started back in 1950 with some parents of children who had cerebral palsy, who were very disturbed that the children weren't getting any sort of education. So, it's origins were a small group of parents who formed a committee, and they ultimately employed someone to give them that education up at the QA hospital way back in the 1950s. For many years after that, it was very much a lobbying and campaigning organisation, that continued to provide the education, got very involved in the formation of the special schools that came into being in the 1960s and 70s, and also adult work centres for these people as well.

Subsequently, with things like the Child Development Centre. And it's really in the last 20 years that we've become very much a service provider, rather than a lobbying and campaigning organisation; there's another organisation, PEF, that do that. And so, we've kind of organically grown our number of services. We've very much been led by needs, done a lot of consultation before we get things up and running. Continue to monitor and evaluate those things to ensure that we're delivering what we should be doing, and we probably have about 10 or 12 services now up and running that are all running very successfully, that have all been developed over that period of time.

SN: Great story, and I think your organisation is made up of volunteers and paid staff?

RS: Yeah, it is, predominantly paid staff because of the level need that we have we rely very heavily on paid staff, but volunteers help a great deal with a number of other projects as well. So, for example we have a project called PALS, which is an acronym, but it's really about out-of-hours groups of young people getting together who have disabilities, and that relies very heavily on volunteers to provide the additional support, and they have a great time as well actually; they go out for meals and cinema, all that kind of thing, bowling.

SN: Which is important isn't it?

RS: It is yeah, absolutely, it's all about developing their social skills and that sort of thing. At the same time, we have an advocacy service, where we advocate on behalf of people to give them a voice, to help them any issues they're going through. That is completely dependent on volunteers. And then there are other projects such as our sports club, which has basketball, a Saturday club for high-dependency needs children. All of these projects that benefit from having volunteers as well.

SN: That's wonderful, and being the main programme. So, if I'm sat here listening to this interview, what can people do to actually get involved and help?

RS: I think that happens on various levels. Anyone who would be interested in volunteering to support people with disabilities, we've got lots and lots of options open to them, and there's many ways in which people can, whether they have the benefit of life experience to support people in an advocacy role, or whether it's going along to a fun project and enjoying going bowling and all that kind of thing. I think the other aspect of it, and perhaps a little bit more organisationally than individually, is about how we can be supported. Obviously, one of the challenges is finance, and that's always an issue for us, but we do a lot of things with events, fundraising activities, and we look very strongly to partner with other organisations who can work with us. That can be towards achieving funding, or it can be very much about helping to deliver projects, or helping to extend the range of opportunities that are available to young people as they grow up.

SN: So, I'll ask in a moment how they get in touch, but what you're saying is, it's not a big commitment, they can give just a few hours of help as well?

RS: Absolutely yeah.

SN: And, anyone that wants to do that, what is the best way of getting in touch with you guys?

RS: There's various ways, certainly the email is an obvious one: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or my own personal one, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . They can get in touch by telephone number 02392 671846. They can drop in; we have a base in Copnor Road, 311-313 Copnor Road, they can do that. And I think the other thing to say is, quite apart from the voluntary work that's available, we're always looking for sessional workers.
And they're people that we do pay, to either work in holiday periods, or work for just a very small number of hours per week, very often supporting one-to-one either adults or children with disabilities. And there's always a need for those, and particularly those people who have got a driving licence and availability of transport, so anyone again who has an interest in that, there is paid work available too.

SN: Brilliant, so whatever you can offer, whatever you can help with, it's either call, email, or call in, and I'm sure you'll be welcoming them in.

RS: Absolutely yeah.

SN: We've therefore talked about the background and your programmes, and the need for volunteers. Like any business, and I know you are a charity, what would you say are the main obstacles that your organisation faces in terms of gaining the financial support you need in order to continue your work?

RS: I think finance is always a challenge, and I think that because of the need that's out there, we're all the time looking to develop and more fully meet the need in the local community. To do that, we do get a certain amount of Local Authority funding, we do have to charge fees, we do apply for grants and that kind of thing. I think increasingly, we're doing a lot more events and actual fundraising activities. I think one of the things we're really looking for is for organisations that we can work with. I think to give an example, we ran a very successful auction for several years, had some wonderful things to auction including tours of the Houses of Parliament and things like that. People bid for it, the money that was bid came to us as a charity.

The challenge we had was that we had to do all of that on our own, including the marketing, and it was a struggle to get the numbers to make it a viable operation. So, if we can find organisations that we can partner with, who can work with us and who can support us with that marketing, then it takes quite a lot of pressure off of us, and it can involve companies and their staff in something that at the end of the day is a really good evening and providing really good opportunities that people would really appreciate.

SN: Indeed, and very worthwhile to. Do you have a programme in place to give your young people the information, advice and guidance they need to make that step in towards or to the world of work? Do you have that facility?

RS: We're very much working on that at the moment, and that's been a work in progress for the last 12-18 months. So, we have partnered with a number of organisations, including the Mary Rose Museum, to provide our young people with opportunities to have work experience. We've partnered with people who can give them some support with CV writing, and with interviews, and that kind of thing. Our manager who's responsible for the teenage projects and the projects for young adults is at the moment seeking funding to ensure that we can further develop those things, very much with a view to giving people the opportunity to reach their potential.

SN: Fantastic, well, let's hope that Shaping and your own organisation can maybe become partners as well in the future. So, Richard, today thank you very much indeed, and I look forward to working with you in the future.

RS: Thank you very much indeed.

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