Thinking outside the box is the new norm…

At Chailey Heritage Foundation, it is exactly this approach that has inspired the staff and volunteers to provide an environment that allows everyone to reach their full potential.

Dating back to 1903, when Grace Kimmins, a nurse from Lewes, set up the Heritage Craft School for disabled boys to learn a trade, the Foundation has grown almost beyond recognition.  However, upon visiting the site you will see reminders of its history everywhere, including the beautiful chapel with both a tower and a spire.  Inside the spacious reception area and corridors are a stunning display of artefacts and photographs, depicting the changes that have taken place over the decades.


Now providing specialist services for children and young adults with complex needs, thinking outside of the box really does seem to have enabled the Foundation to pay attention to the minutest detail!   Technology plays a very important part of everyday life here and has made a massive difference to the lives of those who use the variety of services on offer.  I was particularly impressed with the way in which each young person has been provided with an individually tailored form of powered mobility.  These take into account not only their physical and communication abilities, but also give the opportunity to develop these abilities further.  Just a few of the amazing systems being used are the TRACK wheelchair system, an indoor and outdoor wheelchair guidance system and the Audio Signpost System which recognises when a wheelchair has reached a doorway and clearly announces which room has been reached.  Eye gaze computers and 3D printers are also used on a regular basis with amazing results.

But enough about technology because what really makes Chailey Heritage Foundation special is the people!  With over 350 staff and 100 volunteers, a lot of time and effort is put into ensuring that everyone is happy, not just the service users!

I spoke to Kerrie Smart-Jones, the Volunteer Services Coordinator who explained how all volunteers are treated in the same way as the paid staff.  With a wide variety of roles available it is important to match the right person with the right role and this is achieved through carefully checking application forms to establish the volunteer’s skill set, before having an informal meeting to find out more and then offering the applicant a trial session.  This plan of action has helped to retain volunteers and increase feelings of job satisfaction, but it doesn’t stop there!  Just like any good employer, each new volunteer attends full induction training including compulsory subjects such as health and safety and safeguarding.  If all goes well then volunteers are offered further training after 6 weeks in how to use the power chairs, followed by regular reviews after that.

Each young person has a curriculum designed individually for them and this could include crafts, swimming, pony riding, outings, etc., to name just a few.  This is great news for volunteers as it gives such a wide variety of roles to choose from.  Volunteers offer whatever time they can, from a few hours a week to a few days with a certain amount of flexibility built in!  Why do they volunteer? Because it’s rewarding – pure and simple!

To find out more about volunteering opportunities please contact Kerrie on 01825 724444 or via email at:  Alternatively you can visit their website at: