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Co-Women Welcomes Charity Partnership with Team Domenica

It was at the prestigious Acumen convention at The Grand Hotel Brighton where I first met Alice Caldecott and Greg van Heeswijk, fundraising champions at Team Domenica. What started as the usual niceties accustomed with networking ettiquette, very quickly transpired into a genuine interest in the works of this local fantastic charity and I was transfixed by their passion and commitment to their work. I knew I had to have Co-Women more involved with their mission so we stayed in touch. I've hosted evening events at their flagship cafe, formed a solid fundraising partnership, welcomed Alice to our membership and taken part in their innaugral fundraising swim event. The rest as they say, is history.

Recently I interviewed Alice so I can share with you more about this charity and the inredible work they do to help young people with learning difficulties access the workplace.

Hi Alice, can you give us a little history on Team Domenica and what the charity does?

Team Domenica was founded in 2016, after Domenica – a young woman with Down’s Syndrome – left college and found that there wasn’t any route for her into employment. Her and her mum, Rosa Monckton MBE, discovered that she was far from alone: only 4.8% of people with learning disabilities are employed in England. Together, they set up Team Domenica to change this.

Today, we create bright futures for people with learning disabilities by delivering innovative employment programmes. During their journey with us, people with learning disabilities (our ‘candidates’) access classroom-based lessons, train in our three cafes in Brighton, and take part in work placements with employers – with the ultimate aim of gaining a job. Our holistic approach empowers our candidates to develop the independence, confidence and skills they need to flourish both within and outside of a workplace.

Seven years on from when we opened our doors, we now support 100 young people, work with 60 employers across Sussex, and are incredibly proud to say that 81% of candidates gain employment through our Supported Internship Programme. As for Domenica herself, she’s busier than ever – not only does she work at Pavilion Gardens Café, but she’s also taken on a second job at the Grand Hotel Brighton!

And how long have you been with them? What's your role in the company?

I’ve been in my current role as Fundraising Manager since April, although I actually worked with Team Domenica for a year in 2019. I initially left the charity to train as a special educational needs teacher (inspired by the education side of Team Domenica’s programmes!), before realising this wasn’t the right fit for me…  so when I saw my current position advertised, I jumped at the chance to return! My role now is to work in partnership with wonderful businesses like Co-Women to raise the money needed to deliver Team Domenica’s work, whilst also helping companies to meet their objectives. 

It must be incredibly rewarding seeing the young people you help, achieve success in the workplace. Is there a specific story that stands out to you?

Absolutely. For me, Katie's story is a brilliant example of how important it is to have a community that champions you – something that clearly resonates with Co-Women's values!

I met Katie in 2019, when she was in her first year of Team Domenica’s employment programme. Her kindness and strong work ethic were clear from the offset, but a challenging experience at college had eroded her self-confidence. During her training, staff focussed on reassuring Katie that she had the ability to achieve her ambitions, and glimpses of her bubbly personality stated to shine through. When I left the charity, Katie was beginning her internship at the Brighton i360.

Returning three years later, and not only has Katie been offered employment at Brighton i360 (which she has held for two years and loves), but her self-esteem has sky-rocketed, she works independently and things she struggled with before – like speaking to customers – she now handles with aplomb. Of course, her journey wasn’t without it challenges. Her anxiety over getting things wrong often crept in, but with the support of her Team Domenica Job Coaches and colleagues, Katie developed techniques to manage her fears. Aside from her own resilience and talent, Katie’s journey really does show the importance to candidates of having a team that believes in their potential – which I think isn’t so different from what we all need! 

Over the last few months, Katie has been training in the ’pod’, meaning that she now takes customers on flights – proving that the sky really is the limit for her! That might sound cheesy, but it’s something that Katie never believed of herself back in 2019. She sums up her journey beautifully:

“It’s hard to describe how proud I am for getting a job at the i360. It’s something I never thought I’d achieve, and now it just feels so amazing. In the future I hope to be able to build up my work schedule so I can save money to move out and live independently. My job will help me do this.”

How do you find your candidates and can people contact you independently if they know someone they think would benefit from your services? 

In most cases, colleges and local authorities across Sussex refer our young people to us, but we frequently attend careers fairs and other local events throughout the year as well. Existing candidates, parents or others who know of our work are also brilliant at recommending our programmes to young people who may be interested. 

So yes, absolutely – please do contact us! We accept applications through our website , where you’ll also find an outline of our applications process. Our friendly team are always happy to chat through anything or answer any questions on 01273 681111.

We're exceptionally proud at Co-Women to be partnered with Team Domenica and to commit to fundraising efforts throughout 2024. How can other companies and individuals get involved and show their support? 

And we’re exceptionally proud to have Co-Women as a corporate partner! 

We have a range of ways for companies to get involved – from sponsoring our events, to making us a charity partner. At the moment, we’re looking for a headline sponsor for our ‘Employer Thanking Event’ in May, offering the opportunity to put your company’s branding in front of up to 60 national, local and regional businesses that we work closely with. Ultimately, we know that partnerships are most effective when we work together to achieve shared impact, so we offer packages of benefits in return for a company’s support. You can have a look at our full range of opportunities and packages here.

Companies can also offer a candidate work experience. This comes with the full support of our employment team, and our partnered employers can attest to what an enriching experience it is for colleagues as well as candidates!

For individuals wanting to fundraise, we currently have a limited number of highly-coveted, free places for the Brighton Marathon Weekend, for both the Marathon and 10k. Money raised will fund our Wrap Around Programme, which provides essential support for candidates in employment. If you know anyone lacing up for either event, who wants some additional motivation (and some free Café Domenica coffee and cake!), you can find out more here. If just the coffee and cake sounds more your thing (I’m with you!), then you can always visit one of our cafes, or purchase from our online shop .

And finally, we're delighted to have you in our community as a Co-Women member. How have you found the group so far, what have you enjoyed, and what would you say to other women business leaders who are thinking of joining?

It’s such a joy to be part of! A piece of advice I received when I began my role was to join a networking community where you feel both supported and inspired, and I feel beyond lucky that I found this almost straight away (I met Jo within my first two weeks)! Six months on, and I’ve met some incredible business leaders at Chai and Chatters, spoken at a fabulous ‘Talks at Dinner’, and cheered Jo and Kate on when they epically swam Team Domenica’s Great Lengths event – so lots of highlights in there! Across all events, there’s a spark that comes with knowing you’re sharing the room with women who have such a breadth of experiences, guidance and creativity to offer.

For any women business leaders who want a supportive community to network with, empower them and - no less importantly - have a laugh with, I can’t recommend Co- Women highly enough. I’m really looking forward to getting more involved in the new year!

Co-Women are an exclusive social club for women business leaders in Sussex, and our doors are open in January to welcome new members. Find out more here.

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