A group of Telford College students are gaining valuable work experience in the retail trade by setting up and running a weekly stall at Wellington Market.
It is part of an initiative to prepare learners at the college’s Willow Tree Centre for the world of employment by boosting their confidence and communication skills.
The centre, based at the Haybridge campus, specialises in teaching students aged 16-19 with severe learning difficulties and complex medical needs.
Natasha Careless, transition and work experience co-ordinator, said: “It’s essential to ensure that our students are given appropriate opportunities to reach their full potential.
“However, due to their complex needs, work experience with external companies isn’t always appropriate.
“We were eager to find a solution that allowed students to gain experience of a working environment and develop their communication skills in the community, with the security of familiar staff supporting them.
“Having our own market stall allows them to play an active part in the way their work experience takes shape, which in turn helps develop their independence skills.”
The weekly stall, every Thursday, has been donated to the Willow Tree Centre free of charge by the Wellington Market Company.
Students have been requesting donations of pre-loved items from family and friends to sell, including beauty products, pre-packaged food, clothes, shoes, jewellery, books, toys, and other household items.
In addition to this, business enterprise students at the Willow Tree Centre are making other products for sale, including bath bombs, soap, and movie night popcorn gift sets.
Wellington Market manager David Chapman said: “After the Willow Tree Centre first contacted me, I decided to do some research and find out a bit more about them, and what I found was fantastic.
“The staff are an inspiration, and the dedication, commitment and support they give their students is outstanding.
“After meeting a couple of the students I wanted to show my support by accommodating them with a stall that best suited their requirements, and it a pleasure to have them here.”
Natasha said: “This isn’t something we’ve ever done before, and we are really grateful to the market management for their support. They have given us this stall free of charge every week for the foreseeable future.
“Our vision as this moves forward is to link with other departments within the college, who could also start making items we could sell.”
So far, a team of eight students from the Willow Tree Centre have been running the stall, split into three shifts, between 9.30am and 2.30pm.
Natasha said: “Ultimately the purpose of this market stall is to enable our students to develop the necessary skills required when they eventually leave education.
“For some, it may just be having the opportunity to communicate with new people and to be an active part of the community – whereas for others it may develop their experiences and skills, enabling them to get a job in the future.
“Either way, it has already given them a sense of pride and achievement to be involved in this project.”
The Willow Tree Centre aims to help students transition into adulthood through four pathways, appropriate to their individual needs – independent living, planning for good health, developing friendships and being part of the community, and creating a pathway to employment.
Many of students have secured work experience with with local businesses, including Telford Steam Railway, the League of Friends caf√© at the Princess Royal Hospital, the Whitehouse Hotel in Wellington, and Lakeside Garden Centre at Priorslee.