Since leaving Derwen College in 2015, former student Joe is as busy as ever. The 27-year-old has a passion for football, both playing and watching; he works or volunteers four days a week, spends time with his fiancé Anna, and has even found time to appear in a television documentary (https://www.channel4.com/programmes/home-free).
He is hoping to move into supported living with fiancé Anna who he met whilst at Derwen College. The couple have been together for five years.
Joe and his mum Pat share their experiences of Derwen College and offer an insight into what happened next …
What were the main skills and lessons that Joe learnt during his time at Derwen?
Mum: One of the most important things Joe learnt at Derwen, was that he could survive without us. He experienced sharing accommodation with other people, especially during the three years he was in the Agnes Hunt Village bungalows where he had to do a bit more for himself – using the washing machine, prepare some meals, get himself up etc. He also had to be responsible for getting himself to classes and activities. All useful skills for moving into supported accommodation.
How did you meet Anna?
Joe: I met Anna through a group of mutual friends who got together in the Student Union. It was during the Summer term of my 3rd year. I liked her and she became my girlfriend.
What memories did you take away from your time at Derwen?
Joe: Some of my happiest memories of Derwen are playing football, having friends, discos, working in Horticulture. I learnt to be more independent.
Was it difficult to keep in touch with Anna?
Joe: When I left Derwen, Anna still had two years to do. We kept in touch by phone and sometimes mum and dad took me to Derwen at the weekend to see Anna and go out for a meal. We did meet up sometimes during the holidays. Our parents helped arrange visits, sometimes at her house and sometimes at mine. In 2017, mum, dad and I decided to move closer to Anna’s family, it has been much easier to see Anna more often and share some activities like swimming and drama group. We go to each other’s houses for tea. We also phone each other and Facetime.
What are Joe’s interests?
Mum: Joe is very keen on football. He plays for a team of young people with Down’s Syndrome, part of a Down’s Syndrome Active project set up by the Down’s Syndrome Association to encourage sport around the country. Everton FC took it on to provide football coaching in Liverpool. Somewhat ironic as Joe is a red through and through, we go to most of the home games at Anfield, Joe’s bedroom is red – walls and carpet with several pictures on the walls.
It is an interesting feature of his relationship with Anna. Her family are blues and she goes to matches at Goodison with her dad. If an Everton match is on TV Joe will want them to win for Anna, she will want Liverpool to win for Joe. Of course, if it is a derby game, they each support their own team.
What are your hopes for the future?
Joe: I want to live with Anna in a house or flat and maybe get married. I want to keep my job.
What is a typical week for Joe?
Monday – Paid employment at a restaurant 11.00am to 3.00pm. Drama Group with Anna – 3.30pm to 5.30 pm
Tuesday – Paid employment at restaurant 11.00am to 5.00pm
Wednesday – Day Service – various activities – trips out, volunteering at community cafe, woodwork, swimming etc. Football training with Everton 6.30pm to 7.30pm
Thursday – Day Service as Wednesday (Anna attends on Thursday). Swimming in evening with Anna,
Friday – Joe works at a local community project. He helps plant and grow vegetables, build raised beds, box up vegetables for local delivery etc. He loves it.
Weekends might include going to the match at Anfield, seeing family, shopping, church on Sunday. Anna might come for tea or vice versa, or go for a pub meal.
Have you enjoyed being on the television?
Joe: I am enjoying being famous.
Mum: The TV experience sometimes felt quite intrusive and time consuming. We agreed to do it on condition it put across a positive attitude about people with learning disabilities. We feel this has been achieved. Although I have expressed one or two reservations about some of the focus on Joe and Anna, on balance I think the programme has done a good job in showing a positive image of people with learning disabilities and showing that they can live happy and fulfilled lives with the right support. I have had many positive comments from friends and family. If the programme makes providers think long and hard about services for young people with learning disabilities, I will be very happy.