Gareth Foulkes has had an incredible career journey, overcoming many barriers along the way as a deaf person. Gareth spent a lot of his youth trying to hide his disability, which impacted his efforts to getting on the career ladder. In his twenties he found friendship in other deaf people, who encouraged him to stop hiding his disability, to embrace it instead! Gareth learnt British Sign Language, developed his deaf identity, and began participating in demonstrations for deaf and disability rights. As his confidence grew, he became more successful in securing employment. Gareth said “I realised my lived experience of being deaf had advantages and was a strength, not a weakness.” These strengths have now led Gareth to becoming a Disabled People’s Employment Champion, working for the Welsh Government.
The Disabled People’s Employment Champions are responsible for working with Welsh employers, and Business Wales, to advocate for the employment of disabled people. All the Disabled People’s Employment Champions are disabled people themselves, which allows them insight into offering practical advice on adapting the recruitment process and workplace to allow disabled employees to realise their full potential.
Gareth has had a long-standing relationship with PRIME Cymru. Gareth had been working for a while as a dog training instructor and partnership support officer for a leading disability assistance dog charity. Once his contract came to an end, Gareth had gained a love for working with the animals. He felt it was his best option to explore self-employment, beginning with dog walking and eventually expanding into home boarding, and puppy and dog training classes. Gareth discovered PRIME Cymru through meeting the late Jan Walker, a PRIME Cymru Development Officer. Jan was already supporting Gareth’s wife, Helen, helping to get her cosmetics business going. Once Jan heard from Helen about Gareth’s fledgling business, she invited him to sign up for our support.
Jan was a great support for Gareth, helping to get his business up and running. Sadly, Jan had to retire, but she and her husband continued to support Gareth by bringing their dog to board with him! When Jan sadly passed, Nick Bradley, a PRIME Cymru Volunteer Mentor, stepped in as Gareth’s mentor.
“A big part of what PRIME Cymru has done for me is help me get my self-confidence and motivation back. I used to be buzzing with self-confidence and energy during the disability rights phase of my career, but I lost it when my contract ended at the assistance dog charity. Being made redundant and just short of fifty years of age was terribly worrying and I was just moping around in self-pity. I really felt I was on the scrap heap so I’m grateful for the encouragement I’ve had from PRIME Cymru and for Jan and Nick’s belief in me and my business idea.”
“Nick has helped me in many ways; being a sounding board for ideas, putting me in touch with HR personnel experts, helping me to apply for grants, and getting good deals on building materials from local suppliers when I needed to replace some fencing. Nick even kindly offered to help with the fencing job himself!”
Nick has continued to mentor Gareth as he applied for his new role as The Disabled People’s Employment Champion. Gareth said he feels “very motivated, very passionate and energised too in [his] new role. Of course, it is still early days and surveying the current situation that disabled jobseekers and disabled employees who want to retain their jobs are in reveals that there is still a mountain to climb. There remain several barriers that are currently preventing disabled people from entering, staying in and progressing in work, from inflexible working practices, to lack of awareness of support.
Disabled people in Wales are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to non-disabled people and this needs to change, not just to make a difference to individuals but to support growth in the Welsh economy. Developing an impairment or long-term health condition is an ordinary part of life for most people. It makes no sense at all for skilled and knowledgeable employees who develop an impairment to be thrown on the scrap heap when a few reasonable adjustments to working practices could keep them in work. It’s bad for the individual, it’s bad for business and it’s bad for society. We must change if we want Wales to be a country that is genuinely committed to equality and social justice.” Gareth is making it his mission in his new role, to create change in Welsh employment that will support disabled individuals to begin the careers that they deserve.
PRIME Cymru is here to offer employment and business support, reach out to us today to begin your new career journey. Give us a call on 01550 721 813 or send us an email: firstname.lastname@example.org