Graduation Celebrates Life-Changing Achievement by Students at Dundee & Angus College

Students who have overcome significant challenges have graduated from a ground-breaking project driven by Dundee & Angus College.

The eight remarkable young adults graduated on Friday 31st May from DFN Project SEARCH.

The life-changing programme, a partnership between Dundee & Angus College, NHS Tayside, and Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership, provides young adults with learning disabilities or autism spectrum conditions the opportunity to break into the world of work and achieve their full potential.

The graduation ceremony took place at Ninewells Hospital, with certificates presented by Simon Hewitt (Dundee and Angus College Principal), Elaine Watson (Director of Workforce NHS Tayside), and Lesley Cunningham (Integrated Manager, Community Mental Health & Learning Disability Services Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership).

For these young people, the dream of gaining meaningful employment can often seem out of reach with Dundee known for having one of the highest levels of people living with disabilities and high poverty and unemployment rates.

Leanne Macdonald, Lecturer Supported Education, said: “Our why is simple.  To create a world where people with learning disabilities are visible, included, and are part of the workforce.  Everybody should have the opportunity to aspire to their dreams, everybody who wants to work should be given the chance with the right support, the right employer, at the right time.  We are on a mission to make the world a better place and through robust collaboration, we are attempting to dismantle the barriers and stereotypes that impede access to the workplace.” 

The story of Bradley Evans, a 2024 graduate, showcases the transformative impact of the Supported Internship Programme.  Bradley gained several academic achievements but struggled in social situations and was diagnosed with Autism when he was 18 years old. He liked routine and would often feel that he could not engage in social events.  He would often miss out on taking part in activities due to anxiety. He would need to sleep after meeting other people as the concentration required would be overwhelming and tiring.

Bradley’s talents have shone brightly throughout his various rotations at NHS Tayside, from working diligently in the laundry to handling critical tasks in Blood Science and Immunology Labs with 100% accuracy.  His journey is a testament to his dedication, adaptability, and exceptional attention to detail, making him an asset to every team he joins.

Bradley has built on his confidence so much so that he gave the vote of thanks at the graduation ceremony. He said: “When Project SEARCH started back in August, I was anxious, I didn’t know what to expect of my course, but when our rotations began and I started getting real work experience, I started to feel more positive about life. 

“Being trusted in a number of roles at the NHS has given me a sense of belonging. I really felt part of a team.  It has boosted my confidence and self-esteem massively.”

Elaine Watson, Director of Workforce NHS Tayside, said: “NHS Tayside is delighted to partner with Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership and Dundee & Angus College to support the DFN Project Search initiative. We are proud to help and be involved in creating potential life-changing experiences and opportunities for young people with challenges in their lives. We have been hugely impressed by the effort and commitment the participants have shown during their work placements across services, both clinical and non-clinical areas.”

Dundee and Angus College and DFN Project SEARCH continue to provide pivotal pathways into employment for young adults with learning disabilities or autism spectrum conditions through the Supported Internship Programme. The course continues to inspire and showcase the talents and contributions of individuals with learning disabilities in the workforce.

Lesley Cuningham Integrated Manager, Community Mental Health & Learning Disability Services Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership, said: "DFN Project Search has a proven track record of being an inclusive programme which benefits from a strong partnership working model.  It is enlightening to see people with significant barriers get support into meaningful employment, thrive within NHS Tayside, and watch them flourish as they start on their career path.”

The eight graduates from this year’s Dundee DFN Project SEARCH were: Bradley Evans, Kyle Findlay, Lennan Egan, Nadia Akesbi, Nikki Patterson, Paige Varney, Tom Fyall, and Tyler Kitch.