Category Archives: Social Enterprise

Talking Mats as a business tool

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We have been exploring how Talking Mats can be used as a tool to support business – both a framework for interviews and appraisals.  Because it supports reflection, it is an ideal framework for employers to use with job candidates.

The recruitment process is time consuming for organisations, and any errors at this stage can be costly for teams.  When I applied for the post of associate with Talking Mats I wasn’t surprised that the actual interview was engaging and different from any other interview experience.

The first part was for the candidates to teach the interview panel a skill, in 5 minutes.  As a speech and language therapist this made a lot of sense to me, as teaching people a skill is more empowering than merely sharing your knowledge.

The second stage of the interview was using a Talking Mat to consider my levels of confidence in relation to aspects of the post.

Having used Talking Mats with children and parents in my clinical work,  I wasn’t used to being  ‘on the other side of the mat’,  and experienced  first-hand the positive aspects.

Firstly, it gives the interviewee permission to break eye contact.  This immediately takes away the pressure of  non-verbal feedback from the panel e.g. if one of the panel is smiling encouragingly, it is tempting to focus on that one person and possibly say too much.   The focus being on the cards and the actual mat can reduce anxiety, supporting people to clearly express their views.

Another aspect of Talking Mats is that the person interviewing, hands to the candidate a picture card on one aspect of the topic e.g. knowledge and skills.

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The multi sensory  aspect i.e. auditory , tactile and visual, supports the candidate to focus on this one concept and share his or her reflection.

The conversation is then built up and captured on an actual mat and the candidate has the opportunity to move the options on the scale as the conversation progresses.

Talking Mats as a communication tool maximises the capacity of individuals to say what matters to them.  How many people leave an interview feeling they didn’t say what they wanted to?

 

P.S.  I got the job!

Introducing our Talking Mats Office Junior

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We are delighted that we have been able to support Kirsty Hamiliton to become our paid Talking Mats office junior. As Kirsty was leaving school she wanted to get some experience doing real work but this is a challenge for her as she has severe autism. The social interaction and pace of change involved in a busy office is not easy for her, but she likes sorting and organising things, so we decided to give it a go.  We have to confess that Joan and I needed some persuasion. At  that time we were busy setting up Talking Mats as a start-up social enterprise and taking on an additional commitment added further complexity to our initial phase of getting started .However, Margo who was one of our associates and also worked with Kirsty in her NHS job is persuasive and we gave it a go!

It has not always been plain sailing. There were challenges; initially, Kirsty only managed to volunteer for an hour at a time and needed significant support to help her manage that. Through having a structured environment, Kirsty moved to volunteering for two hours a week and lots of progress made both in the tasks performed but also level of supervision required. Her support worker no longer stays with her in the office. Karen our Talking Mats Training Administrator is responsible for her work and once a task is set up Kirsty works on them independently.

There have been huge benefits to Talking Mats and they have outweighed the difficulties. We have someone who

  • has an eye for detail
  • who likes putting things into sets; a huge advantage if you are working with symbols
  • who can work at  speed and with great focus  on visual tasks that the rest of us find hard,
  • who is reliable and comes  to her work every week
  • who keeps us grounded by reminding us of our core business i.e. to improve the lives of people with communication difficulties

We have also learnt a lot about supporting someone with severe autism in to work and we would like to ask other organisations and companies to think about whether they have opportunities that people with communication disability can take advantage of. It has really made me reflect on my time in the NHS as a Speech and language therapy manager. Despite the investment that the NHS makes to people with learning disability, there are limited opportunities for employment for people with autism and learning disability in statutory services, yet we are sure staff have the skills to support this. We have no doubt that Kirsty’s social and communication skills have grown hugely in her time with us. We think statutory services are missing a huge opportunity to make a real difference to an individual’s health and well-being that will begin to challenge the continued current health inequalities that exist.

We are proud that Kirsty has moved from volunteer to paid status and proud of all the team at Talking Mats that has enabled this to happen. She’s a great colleague to have in our social enterprise .

Could Talking Mats help support refugees?

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Stirling Council hosted a meeting this morning (2nd October) to discuss Stirling’s response to the Syrian refugees crisis. It was a great meeting with good speakers outlining the Scottish response and also the Stirling response to welcoming families from the refugee camps. There were about 150 people in the hall buzzing with ideas and we were given plenty of time to discuss in groups our thoughts and ideas.

One of the key issues overlying those such as housing, education, health, faith and community support was communication. How we can help people whose first language is not English and who may also have difficulty expressing themselves because of trauma?

Already there have been responses from translation services, the local Islamic Centre and the University. Another possibility is the use of Talking Mats to help people consider their options and express their views. We have used Talking Mats in other situations where English was not a first language, for example in clinical situations with Polish patients and also in our work in China a few years ago. We found that once the person understood the basic structure of Talking Mats we were able to communicate amazingly well. We have a number of symbol resources that might be helpful and, as a social enterprise, are keen to offer our services.

Like everyone in this morning’s meeting, we look forward to welcoming and supporting the Syrian families who are coming to Stirling.

Fair Trade Talking Mats bags

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Talking Mats is delighted to support Fair Trade through the purchase of new style bags which has come about through the initiative of one of our team, Margo Mackay. She has written the following blog:

The arrival of seven large boxes shipped from Kolkata caused great excitement in the Talking Mats office last week. For me personally opening up the boxes from the Freeset factory immediately brought a series of images to mind. Just over one year ago, at the start of 2014, I was part of a delegation of Scottish women who visited India to see businesses set up to help women who had been trafficked.

A tour around the factory revealed well organised systems with women busy working in production; cutting, sewing and printing bags ordered from all over the world. A factory like any other but with a significant difference. Most of the employees had previously been trapped in India’s sex trade which had robbed them of dignity. For them, getting a job in the Freeset factory gives the women a chance to regain control of their lives in a caring community.

They are given fair pay and conditions, offered education and health care. They are supported to make their journey out of prostitution and into a new way of living, restoring hope. Although a business, Freeset is also a community. The women are often dealing with health problems (including HIV/AIDS), and psychological effects from abuse and exclusion from society. This makes for a challenging workplace and much effort is put into creating a compassionate environment where the women are supported and their needs met.

As a Social Enterprise business, through selling our Talking Mats products, we are now participating in a woman’s journey to freedom. The transformation in women’s lives is clearly apparent, simply because they’ve been given a chance. We are proud to be supporting this enterprise.
Why don’t you have a look for yourself on their website?  http://freesetglobal.com/

And why don’t you treat yourself to one of these attractive bags by buying one of our products

Annual Report: Talking Mats style

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It’s that time again when we have to write our Annual Report. This year we decided to make it (hopefully) more interesting and informative to read and (definitely) more enjoyable to write.  So we have done it in the form of mind maps.
The first is a summary of all that we have achieved in the past year. We have broken it down into the various strands of our Social Enterprise business. Click on the mind map to be able to read it!

Talking Mats year in Numbers 2013 - 2014

The second is an attempt to measure the social impact that Talking Mats has – never an easy thing to quantify.We have based it on Health and Social Care Outcomes used by the Health and Social Care Alliance Scotland 2013. Click on mind map.

Health and Social Care Outcomes
We were delighted to receive this comment – “You can tell they are communication professionals. No waffle – really clear and just what you want to know. The best example of an annual report I have ever seen!”

Please let us know if you have any innovative ways of presenting reports