Disguised as your average second hand shop in a south Wales valleys town, The Orb is anything but. Opened in October 2015, The Orb is a pioneering day service on the high street of Porth and is proof that active support for adults with complex needs associated with autism can be made real.
It is an approach to care that puts individuals at the centre of their own developmental pathway, as well as offering them an active role in their community.
Active Support maintains that everyone has the right to a life that is as socially-valued as anyone else’s. The individuals who volunteer and learn at The Orb have complex needs associated with autism and a learning disability.
The Orb’s position on the high street ensures that those who volunteer are not only visible, but are also active and engaged, whilst accessing tailored full and part-time programmes of learning that combine work experience, life skills and leisure modules.
The Orb looks like any second-hand shop on any high street where customers can browse the shelves and racks for clothes, books and toys donated by the public. Once inside, the shop opens up, leading through to a café where customers can relax with drinks and snacks, and collect stamps on their loyalty cards. The café leads to a laundry where clothes sold in the shop are washed, ironed, sorted, folded, priced-up and then put out on display. Upstairs there is an office for learning word processing skills, CV writing and more, and a kitchen for meal prep, as well as a chill out room.
One regular customer said:
“I’ve fallen in love with this place! Staff are friendly. Volunteers are super friendly and polite. The staff are wonderful with the volunteers! When I came in today I was having a bad day. I am leaving in a much better mood. A smile can brighten someone’s day- it certainly has for me!”
The service is designed to give young people and adults with autism experience in the world of work, and to kick-start their CVs via real-life services that engage with the public.
Supported by skilled staff, it means that rather than their complex needs being a barrier to work experience, their needs and The Orb become the point of access.
In April 2016, six months after the launch of The Orb, the National Autistic Society published their Autism Employment Gap Report which turned the spotlight onto a series of concerning statistics relating to unemployment among adults with autism. The report found that whilst only 32% of autistic adults were in any kind of full or part time paid work, over 75% of unemployed autistic adults said they would actually like to be in work.
Since opening in 2015, The Orb has provided work-skills, life-skills and continuous learning programmes for more than 30 individuals with complex needs helping adults and young people get a vital stepping stone to gainful employment. With a second branch of The Orb about to open in Swansea, Orbis’ commitment to preparing individuals with autism for the world of work continues.