Back in September 2018 we were introduced to an organisation called Bemix – a social enterprise that supports people with learning difficulties and/or autism to achieve equality.

They asked whether we would be interested in mentoring one of their members who was interested in graphic design. Enter Robert Campbell – a young man who was keen and eager to learn more about the creative process and experience working in a commercial environment.

I brought the opportunity to our MD’s attention and we both quickly realised it was a worthwhile cause. Helping people out, no matter who they are or where they are from, is a good thing to do. Always.

We discussed the opportunity openly with our creative team as we wanted everyone to feel comfortable and understand their individual involvement, as well as the expectations we had set out for Robert.

It may sound unusual, but I didn’t want to research autism too much before Robert arrived. I wanted us to be as natural and down-to-earth as possible, while establishing flexible working arrangements and clear lines of communication.

Robert started working with us two days per week from 9.30am to 2pm. He was accompanied by his support worker, Nipa, who was always on hand to provide support and ensure he felt comfortable.

That was nearly seven months ago now and Robert has gone from strength to strength. His understanding of graphic design and the creative process has improved, as well as of the standard industry programs he will need to master as a young designer, but more importantly we have also seen a growth in his confidence around others.

There are 22 of us at Zest and we all sit in one big room, which can be pretty hectic and overwhelming. Over the months Robert has grown to being comfortable in these surroundings, so much so that he now works with us three days per week with his support worker reducing their hours considerably.

Managing expectations and being honest about the relationship we have developed with Robert and Bemix is important, so everyone is clear on the journey. For Robert to become a commercial Junior Designer will take time, which I have explained to the team at Bemix. Students typically study for three or four years and invest large sums of money to become a qualified designer, before they then must walk the tight-rope of finding employment!

So, with that in mind, and to support Robert on this path, we work with him on a range of tasks to help build his understanding of working as a creative commercially. This includes a mixture of research projects, creative exploration on live briefs (where his creative thoughts have been included in presentation decks), through to more structured learning using specific program tutorials for Indesign, Photoshop and Illustrator.

We have also created a document for Robert to start building up a portfolio of work, which at the end of his internship will allow him to see the progress he has made.

Robert’s internship comes to an end in July and we are already in discussion about extending this further. The nature of Government funding and how the organisation is set up means we have several options moving forward:

  • We employ Robert full-time as a creative intern
  • Robert goes to college to study graphic design further
  • We access a Government Apprenticeship Scheme to continue our relationship

We have decided that the third option is one we will be collectively exploring moving forward.

I would urge every business who can to support organisations like Bemix, not in the future but now. It’s a worthwhile cause that is making a positive difference, not just to the individual’s life, but the wider family unit as well.

Proactive positivity for the long term. Here’s to it!