For as long as they can remember Megan and her family had always had Derwen College in their sights as the specialist college provision that she would go on to when she was 19.
Moving from Regency High School, Worcester, where she was a day pupil, on to Derwen College as a residential student was a huge step. One in which, at first, Megan faced new challenges; homesickness and the highs and lows of forming and maintaining friendships – speaking to Megan about this she says she had lots of support pastorally from both college and home. She made lots of friends and learnt skills in personal development around the intricacies of friendships. After the first half term holidays she was really keen to return to college to get back to her work training and to socialising.
Megan, who has Down’s syndrome, started at Derwen College in September 2013 as a student in Creative and Performing Arts. She looks back at her time at Derwen very fondly ‘It was a pleasure to be a student at Derwen College. I have become a strong and confident woman. I was so happy from the start.’
Megan was part of DOT – Derwen on Tour – a performance production internal and external work experience placement. Students rehearse for individual projects, developing key skills such as effective communication, team work, self-discipline and commitment. The group take Makaton sign, song and dance performance and workshops out to schools, businesses and high profile events and exhibitions all over the UK to showcase their work.
Videos featuring Megan and other DOT performers can be viewed on the Derwen College YouTube channel.
Megan remembers other experiences and opportunities from her three-year stay at Derwen College – being a member of the student council, socialising with friends in the student union, rehearsing and performing in shows at Derwen and in Llangollen theatre, learning independent living skills, taking part in further work training onsite in the college’s gallery, Orangery Restaurant and offsite in the Station Café at the railway station in Gobowen. ‘Not one of the experiences I had at Derwen was wasted – each has been important in helping me learn different life and employability skills.’
Transition planning begins early at Derwen – Megan’s mum Tracy says ‘I found Megan’s transition from Derwen College and beyond seamless. There was a good connection between transition staff at Derwen and Megan’s social workers, which meant that a supported living placement was set up early on. I knew who I could and still can contact at Derwen; in particular the Transition Coordinator at Derwen College has always kept in touch to ensure that Megan has been able to continue to build upon her employment skills and maintain a fulfilled life.’
Megan and Tracy however, said they did feel a void after Derwen. ‘Megan’s college life was a place of joy, connection and fulfilment. We were unable to anticipate the level of change and the effects this may have.’
Megan moved into her supported living home just four weeks after finishing at Derwen. She shares with two friends who also went to Derwen. Megan explains ‘there is a care team who support us. Someone is always at the house when we are there and sleeps in at night in case we need extra support. At the weekend I see my family and boyfriend. I also have some hours each week for one-to-one support time, I get to choose what to do – I love going to the cinema.’
At the same time as starting her supported living placement Megan enrolled on a local training course. Tracy says ‘unfortunately this did not work out. It was such a big adjustment to finish college and move into her new home. There was a lot of change all at once.’
A little over a year on and Megan has an equally active and busy life to the one she experienced whilst at Derwen; she attends Heart of Worcester College studying on Gateway 2 course Monday to Thursday.
On Tuesday mornings she has a paid part time job at County Hall helping with general office duties. Megan also completed travel training and now gets the bus to work on her own too.
On a Friday morning Megan volunteers at a community café – serving customers and preparing hot and cold snacks and drinks.
Megan also volunteers at the local Swan Theatre as a steward serving ice creams and sweets and selling programmes and promotional materials – staff support Megan with handling money. She keeps an eye on patrons who might need help and cleans up after performances. ‘I love chatting to all the people coming to see the shows and I get to see the shows too, which is the best reward for me as I love performance. I do this two to three times a month, but lots more in pantomime season.’
Evenings and weekends Megan continues to keep an active social life; ‘I go to a youth group twice a week, Zumba twice a week with my mum and on Sunday I go to church.’
Megan has ideas for the future – ‘I would like to try different types of work – I have looked at animal care at a local sanctuary already, but I am a bit too busy to do this as well at the moment. I want to find a drama club that I can join, as I love being on stage and want to do this again. And, I would like to get married to my boyfriend Tim and live together in our own house.’
‘I thank Derwen College for playing a big part in my journey.’
‘For anyone thinking about going to Derwen College, I would say go for it, you’ll have the time of your life and, it will prepare you for life.’