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DFN project SEARCH hosts annual conference at Gulliver’s Theme Park for 200 delegates following the launch of the national #InclusionRevolution campaign.

National charity DFN Project SEARCH hosted their annual conference this week at the fun and creative environment of Gulliver’s Theme Park in Rother Valley, South Yorks. The purpose of the event was to thank organisations who play an important role in increasing the number of young adults with a learning disability and/ or autism spectrum condition into full time paid employment. It also encouraged more organisations to recognise the social and economic value in employing young adults with Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND).

200 delegates from local authorities, businesses, education providers and supported employment providers around the country gathered at Gulliver’s Theme Park for the two-day event. Gulliver’s are a proud partner of DFN Project SEARCH and take an active role on this issue.

The event comes just one week after DFN Project SEARCH launched a new campaign called #InclusionRevolution which aims to support 10,000 young adults aged between 18 – 25 with a learning disability or autism into paid employment by 2030.  

This initiative highlights the shocking reality that only 5.1% of people with a learning disability in England secure full time paid employment, compared to 80% of their peers. That means an astonishing 95% will be forced to live a lifetime on benefits.

During the two-day event, delegates were addressed by several speakers including Jane Gurnett, Founder of Act for Autism and television and theatre actor, well known for her roles in Casualty and Dangerfield. Other speakers included David Forbes-Nixon, Founder and Executive Chair of DFN Project SEARCH;Elizabeth Franey, Deputy Director of SENDAP (Specialist Provision, Assessment and Family Experiences Division) from Department for Education;Laura Davis CEO British Association Supported Employment and Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski founders of the original Project SEARCH programme in the US.

In opening this year’s conference David Forbes Nixon, Founder and Executive Chair of DFN Project SEARCH, said:“We will not rest on our laurels until all deserving young adults have the opportunity to access a high-quality supported internship. To that end, last week, we launched the Inclusion Revolution campaign where we announced a target of getting 10,000 youngsters with learning disabilities and autism into jobs by 2030.”

Jane Gurnett Actor and Founder of Act for Autism said: “Every human being needs a purpose in life and work is one of the ways that people can achieve a sense of purpose. DFN Project SEARCH creates a pathway to purpose for so many young people that would otherwise find the workplace more challenging than it ever should and needs to be.”

Julie Dalton, MD of Gulliver’s Theme Park Group said: “Gulliver’s is a family business that champions diversity. We’ve had a team of DFN Project SEARCH interns since 2020 and they very quickly became an important part of the Gulliver’s family. As an organisation we have the responsibility to help people unlock their potential. This project enables young people to develop the vital skills they need to achieve social and emotional independence and the opportunity to achieve financial independence through paid employment. It’s an incredibly rewarding and successful scheme and we’re delighted to work alongside DFN Project SEARCH.”

DFN Project SEARCH provides a one-year supported internship programme for young adults with a learning disability and/ or autism spectrum condition to help them make the transition from education to work. The charity works in partnership with Local Authorities, education providers, families host employers ranging from NHS Trusts to some of the UK’s biggest businesses such as DPD, GSK and Marriott Hotels. Earlier this month, DFN Project SEARCH was part of a consortium Internship Works Programme, commissioned by the Department for Education to double the number of supported internships by March 2025.

The DFN Project SEARCH programme has a transformative effect on the interns who take part. Over 70% of DFN Project SEARCH graduates gain jobs, 60% of them achieving full-time permanent roles, compared to the 5.1% average in England.

DFN Project SEARCH is calling on all businesses to review their recruitment procedures and consider employing more young adults with a learning disability, autism spectrum condition, or both.