Image for Neurodiversity Celebration Week showing logos of Grand Union, Ambitious about Autism and the GEM Programme

Things going well on neurodiverse graduate scheme

News – 16 March 2023

We understand how diversity makes us stronger. That’s why we’re piloting a new scheme for neurodiverse graduates as part of an innovative partnership with Ambitious about Autism and the GEM Programme, a graduate training and development programme for the UK’s housing sector. Via the scheme, we’ve a year-long placement in property compliance for an autistic graduate.

The successful candidate, R (he’d like his name to remain private), joined Grand Union in November. He said: “My job is going well and I’m enjoying it. Although it’s a really busy time in my team, I’m getting lots of support.

“Around 80% of the autistic community are unable to find work, so having a work placement is a great step forward for me and shows that Grand Union has a positive attitude to neurodiverse people.”

Jon Cowell, R’s manager, said: “R has adapted quickly to his first professional working environment and has fully integrated with his team-mates.

“Although our open plan office initially presented him with a problem with the noise levels being too intrusive, we sourced some noise-cancelling headphones which makes his time in the office more enjoyable.

“He is an extremely intelligent young man, holding a bachelor’s degree in computer science. He’s adapting well to new tasks and is building a sound working knowledge of our compliance processes and practices.”

Kirsty Normile, R’s HR support colleague, said: “We’re delighted to have R with us and feel fortunate that we’ve been able to provide him with this opportunity to prove that autistic people can be valuable members of our team.

“I know he’s looking forward to shadowing other teams where he also has an interest, such as IT, Data Analysis, Business Transformation and Finance.”

In January, R attended his first session of the GEM Programme. He engaged with the presentations and took part in team exercises. During the final presentation of the day, focusing on homelessness by a performance artist who was once homeless, the audience were invited to write down their thoughts and then were offered to stand up and read what they’d written. R surprised everyone, as he’d written a poem, which was read out by the artist.

Geraldine Howley, Executive Chair of the GEM Programme, said: “Since its inception in 2009, the GEM Programme has delivered on a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. Social justice and empathy are embedded in our recruitment and development of upcoming housing professionals.

“We are delighted to be partners with Ambitious About Autism and Grand Union in this pioneering work to attract neurodiverse talent to the housing sector. The cultural fit and leadership of Grand Union, and the expertise and commitment of Ambitious About Autism, provide the foundations for a strong and innovative partnership with the GEM Programme.”