About Us

What We Do

DFN Project SEARCH is a one-year transition to work programme for young adults with a learning disability or autism spectrum conditions, or both.

Everyone deserves the right to aspire to the very best future, yet only 5.1% of people in England with a learning disability who are known to local authorities go on to secure paid employment, compared to 80% of their peers.

We don’t think this is right and neither do the people we support and work alongside.

At DFN Project SEARCH we work hard to challenge and change cultures, demonstrating how young people with a learning disability can enrich the workforce, bring incredible skills and talent,
encourage greater diversity and meet a real business need.

We partner with organisations across the public, private, and voluntary sectors to create supported employment internships for young people in their last year of education, helping them to take positive first steps into the world of work.

Our unique programmes around the UK have been established with various prestigious employers including hospitals, local authorities, universities, and a number of private sector businesses.

At the end of the programme, on average 60% of DFN Project SEARCH gradates move into full-time permanent roles and 70% of DFN Project SEARCH graduates gain jobs in total.

We believe in empowering all young people to enter the workplace with confidence.

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Our Vision and Purpose

Our vision is to achieve social justice for people who have been frequently marginalised from the world of work.

Our purpose is to get young adults with a learning disability or autism or both into full time jobs, that lead to rewarding careers paid at the prevailing wage.

Our commitment to inclusion across disability, race, gender, age, class, religion, identity, and experience forms the cornerstone of our work.

The work we are doing at DFN Project SEARCH is having a positive impact on society. It is widely agreed that employment improves health and wellbeing. People in work tend to enjoy happier and healthier lives than those who are not in work.

Transitioning people from education straight into competitive employment also saves money for health and social care. Our graduates become net contributors rather than recipients of adult social care and health services.

Our Ambition

To eradicate the postcode lottery and ensure that everyone with an Education, Health and Care Plan or equivalent has the opportunity to access high-quality transition to work support and training in their local area.
To have a DFN Project SEARCH Transition to Employment pathway in every Local Authority.
To influence a fair funding formula that allows all learners with additional needs access to this opportunity.

Our Team

Our exceptional team address the root causes of low levels of disability employment every day.

David Forbes-Nixon OBE

Founder and Chairman

Claire Cookson

Chief Executive Officer

Carmel McKeogh

Operations Director

Sarah MacQuillin

Director of Development

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Emma Lord

Programme Specialist

Sian Foster

Programme Specialist

Martin Wilby

Programme Specialist

Sarah Palmer

Programme Specialist

Roberta Kirosingh

Head of Digital Marketing and Governmental Affairs

Harry Georgiou

Youth Advisory and Co-Production Assistant

Molly Williams-Leer

Development Officer

Julie Brennan

Executive Office Manager

John Lobato

Impact and Learning Manager


Youth Advisory Group


We have recruited a team of interns to sit on the Youth Advisory Group with the aim of educating employers across UK businesses to develop more inclusive employment practices.

The Youth Advisory Group is made up of twelve members who are existing interns on DFN Project SEARCH programmes from across the country and chaired by the Youth Advisory and Co-Production, supported by our CEO.

Our Trustees

Coming from diverse backgrounds in finance and education to the nonprofit sector, what unites our trustees is the belief that young people with a learning disability and autism have so much to bring to the workplace.

Erin Riehle

Susie Rutkowski

Emily Sun

Lela Kogbara

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Mark Hudson

David Forbes-Nixon OBE


Our History

The DFN Foundation was established by city financier David Forbes-Nixon who has a son with a learning disability. He became aware of the lack of effective provision to meet his son’s needs and that of other young people like him and was determined to try and make a positive difference.

David initially launched the DFN Foundation to create significantly improved provision at Undershaw School in Surrey. However, his research into best practice led him to discover the appalling lack of employment opportunities for young people with special needs.

With the full support of the board, David committed the DFN Foundation to developing and sharing best practice to positively improve the problem of employability training for young adults with special needs.

In 2019 DFN Project SEARCH became a registered charity and is now independent of DFN Foundation, having secured the master Project SEARCH franchise for the UK, Ireland and Iberia.

The Project SEARCH programme started in 1996 in the US. Today, Project SEARCH has over 650 licensed programmes around the world and in multiple public and private sector industries.