Caritas St Joseph’s, our centre for lifelong learning in Hendon, has received funding from the Cardinal’s Appeal to expand its work programme – a series of courses which give students meaningful work and the dignity of being able to contribute to society. The newest course, a gardening programme, sees students going out to work in gardens, including that of All Saints church in Kenton, where they are trained in a variety of gardening skills.
Gail Williams explained the importance of this work programme in fulfilling the vision of Caritas Westminster and Caritas St Joseph’s:
“The definition of work is ‘activity involving mental or physical effort done in order to achieve a purpose or result.’ In his homily on the Feast of St Joseph the Worker last year, Pope Francis told us that work is the vocation of all men and women. This statement resonates with me as I am aware that the people I serve usually hear the opposite. Those with intellectual and physical disabilities are one of the groups most marginalised by society, being excluded from the world of work and pushed to the edge of their local and faith communities. Fratelli Tutti, the Pope’s encyclical on Fraternity and Social Friendship, tells us ‘It frequently becomes clear that, in practice, human rights are not equal for all.’” (paragraph 22)
Work is where we find not only monetary reward but also a sense of value and achievement and, more importantly, our sense of worth to our family and community. Our mental and physical wellbeing is at its greatest when we have that sense of achievement and of contributing to those around us to the greater good of society.
At Caritas St Joseph’s we have also learned that work is an expression of our spirituality. Where sounds are not made coherently and communication is difficult, our inner self is transformed and our talents transmitted through the mediums of art, dance and horticulture to name but a few. The students in our Enterprise arm produce items that not only show their creativity and talent but rather contain a piece of their self as a person that the world cannot see or hear in conventional ways. Those pieces are truly as beautiful as the students themselves, inside and out, are.
In a society that leans towards physical and intellectual perfection to such a great extent that we use social media to filter and hide our reality; here at Caritas St Joseph’s we acknowledge those imperfections which make us unique and celebrate them.
The talents our students possess are abundant and these should be shown to the world. Although conventional employment may never be possible for many of our students, we aim to create a safe and nurturing work environment, encouraging them and investing time in developing their skills.”
The Caritas St Joseph’s Enterprise arm consists of 13 different courses. Students on these courses are taught not only about the making of an item for sale but the whole process from the origins of the resources and materials used, to the finished end product being of a high standard so that it can be sold.
As one student in the ceramics course said:
It makes me happy that someone wants to buy my vase. I am really proud!
The gardening social enterprise takes adults with intellectual disabilities out of the centre to work in gardens, and under the supervision of their tutor, they will develop work and life skills in a safe environment. The students will learn about all aspects of gardening and horticulture, drawing on all their senses in order to learn about the life cycles of a British garden throughout the year.
Payment for the gardening services will be reinvested in the centre, and will enable other classes of students to contribute, for example those in the horticulture course can grow the plants needed and those learning ceramics and woodwork could make planters and garden furniture. These other students, who are not ready for work outside of the Caritas St Joseph’s centre, can therefore also get a sense of belonging within wider society.
2021 is a year of special devotion to St Joseph, the patron saint both of Caritas St Joseph’s and of work. As Pope Francis said in his letter for the year of St Joseph, Patris Corde, “Saint Joseph was a carpenter who earned an honest living to provide for his family. From him, Jesus learned the value, the dignity and the joy of what it means to eat bread that is the fruit of one’s own labour.”
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