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DFN Project SEARCH appoints learning disability expert Kirsty Matthews as new Chief Executive

DFN Project SEARCH has appointed Kirsty Matthews as its new Chief Executive, effective from 2nd September 2024.

Kirsty brings a wealth of experience to DFN Project SEARCH, a national charity providing transition to employment support to young people with a learning disability and/or autism spectrum diagnosis through year-long supported internship programmes. Kirsty has held a variety of senior leadership roles in both public and private organisations within the disability, health and care sectors, including her most recent role as Chief Executive of Hft, a learning disability charity and delivery partner of DFN Project SEARCH.

Speaking about her new role, Kirsty Matthews said: “I am extremely proud to join DFN Project SEARCH at such an exciting time of growth for the organisation. Young people with a learning disability or an autism spectrum diagnosis are just as talented and eager to work as their peers. They deserve access to the same opportunities. Helping them secure their best chances in life – and raising expectations in general – is a mission I will embrace wholeheartedly as the Chief Executive of DFN Project SEARCH. I look forward to starting work with the team, the Board, our stakeholders and Youth Advisory Group as soon as possible.”

Over the past five years, DFN Project SEARCH has grown to work with more than 140 organisations across the UK, supporting over 2,600 interns into employment, with 60% of graduates securing full-time permanent roles. From the start of the new school year in September there are expected to be around 200 programmes operating with over 1400 young people on their supported internships.

DFN Project SEARCH is poised for a new chapter of growth and impact, having recently launched its new Don’t Stop Me Now campaign, which challenges the stereotype that people with learning disabilities don’t want to work and encourages employers to utilise the untapped potential of this willing and able group of workers.

The organisation will continue to inspire, innovate, and improve the lives of young adults with learning disabilities or autism across the UK.

Mark Hudson has recently taken over as Chair of DFN Project SEARCH from David Forbes-Nixon, who will continue to support DFN project SEARCH as Founder and Patron. Mark welcomed Kirsty to the organisation: “We are thrilled to welcome Kirsty as our new Chief Executive. Her extensive experience and passion for improving lives align perfectly with our vision. I am confident that under her leadership, we will continue to make a profound impact on the lives of young people and inclusive recruitment overall.

Mark added: “On a personal note, I am delighted to have the opportunity to lead our Board as Chair and help the organisation deliver on our ultimate objective to ensure that young people with a learning disability can access a high-quality supported internship in their local area.”

David Forbes-Nixon, Founder and Patron of DFN Project SEARCH said: “I am delighted to welcome Kirsty as CEO of DFN Project SEARCH with her incredible wealth of experience in the learning disability space. I am also thrilled to hand over to Mark Hudson as my successor Chair to help guide the charity on the next chapter of its remarkable journey and to get thousands more talented young adults with learning disabilities and autism into jobs. As Founder and Patron, I will continue to actively support DFN Project SEARCH, especially as I serve as Founder and Chairman of the DFN Foundation, where we are supporting various causes including special needs education and employment and policy work to reduce the disability employment gap.”