31st October 2018

Penny’s employment story

For National Disability Employment Awareness Month, Barry Wilson tells us about his daughter’s journey into employment with Down’s Syndrome.


After a slow start, Penny soon showed herself to have steely determination, a wicked sense of humour and a well developed line in mischief.  Mum and I plodded a well trodden path to various headmasters’ studies during her schooling. Sadly we lost Mum when Penny was thirteen and she lived at home with me (her father) and older sister Gill until the age of 32, at which point she moved to sharing a house with two other ladies with Down’s syndrome under fairly low levels of support.

After losing Mum, my aim was to make her independent well before I became old and creaky. I was also keen for Penny to have a fulfilling life and together with support from her sister and some input from Cheshire CC Children’s Services we did our best to maximise her natural abilities. Training her in personal hygiene, cooking, independent travelling, timekeeping, personal security and education all helped towards getting a job and enjoying life.

She attended Macclesfield College after leaving school, achieving NVQ level one in catering.

FFL started when Penny was 18 and she was lucky enough to join at its outset and had a one to one friendship which lasted almost 10 years beyond leaving FFL at the age of 21.

Penny currently works a total of 23 hours spread over four days per week at Sainsbury’s Macclesfield Branch.


Employment Career

Helping with school dinners.

Penny’s first job was with Cheshire County Council, assisting with school dinners at a local junior school. The hours were short and the work unfulfilling. She stuck it out for 6 months then left when the service was reorganised.

Kitchen work in a children’s nursery.

With her Catering NVQ, Penny acquired a job at a children’s nursery in a tiny kitchen, heating pre-prepared food for the children. She was able to manage oven to temperatures accurately and generally did a good job. However her work colleagues proved her downfall, constantly checking temperatures randomly causing the ovens to cool every time the doors were open. As a consequence temperatures were haywire and poor Penny got the blame until the management stepped in and stopped it.  The staff then had Penny cleaning toilets and emptying bins when the management were absent. Penny ‘got the red mist’ and gave in her notice immediately.   

Cheshire Supported Employment were somewhat taken aback. They had never had anyone march out of a job before but were fully supportive when the situation was explained.

Document archiving work

Her next job was in Poynton, less than half a mile from home. The company archived paper documents onto microfiche. Penny’s role was to strip the documents into individual pages, strictly in order and prepare them for scanning. On completion she assembled the documents again and packaged them. In contrast to her previous job, the staff and management could not have been kinder or more helpful. The work was quite satisfying and Penny stuck at it for several years, until eventually becoming bored, and by this time having to travel in from Macclesfield, she started to look for a job there.

Sainsbury’s Macclesfield.

She decided to apply to Sainsbury’s for a job and ‘pestered’ me until I provided access for her to complete the online application form. Although she required some help to interpret the questions, she was able to provide her own answers without guidance. Having scored sufficiently she was invited to an interview, Sainsbury’s very fairly allowing a representative from Cheshire East Supported Employment to provide support.

To Penny’s delight she got the job.

She has spent the last nine and a half years with Sainsbury’s, mainly in the general merchandise and clothing departments. Both the management and her fellow work colleagues have been friendly, supportive and  exceptionally fair, helping her to overcome a number of sometimes difficult issues over the last nine years. She has also had a few highlights in the form of small rewards for being  especially helpful to customers and also spotting shoplifters!


She is very happy and hopes to stay with Sainsbury’s.


 In Conclusion

Cheshire Supported Employment have been of tremendous help, giving support during early on-job training and resolving difficulties.

There is no doubt that employment has significantly enhanced Penny’s life. She has learned social skills, the value of money, organising skills, timekeeping, adhering to rules and how to stand up for herself. 

Most of all employment has completed the circle of a happy independent fulfilling life.