University of Hertfordshire hosts Opportunities Days

ORGANISERS of an annual careers day for children with special needs fear for the future of the event, in the wake of Government spending cuts.

For the sixth year in a row, the Hatfield-based uni hosted Opportunities Day – a yearly event organised by career service HCS Herts in partnership with the uni, Herts Youth Connexions and St Elizabeth Centre in Much Hadham – which gives special needs students a taste of future career paths.

Pupils tried a range of skills and professions, including photography, hairdressing, film, breadmaking, gardening and looking after farm animals.

The days provide a chance for teenagers with learning difficulties to gain a sense of what the working world is like – but the future of the event is now in doubt, as Government service cuts begin to take hold.

With Hertfordshire County Council having to find savings of around �200m over the next five years, the HCS Herts is worried the �16,000 needed to put on Opportunities Days next year may not be forthcoming.

And Opportunities Day co-ordinator Mita Ashcroft said she hoped businesses and organisations could club together to provide funds in order to continue the service beyond this year.

“The feedback has been excellent from employers, students and teachers,” she said.

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“It’s a real case of a partnership working together to support these young people throughout the day. I just wish it could be sustainable.”

But a Hertfordshire County Council spokesman reassured organisers that the even was safe for the foreseeable future, saying: “There are no specific plans to cut valuable events like these.”

At the de Havilland Campus, this year’s event was opened by Paralympic World Champion swimmer Fran Williamson and her partner and publicist Chris Whitaker.

Fran, who won gold in the 50m backstroke at the 2006 World Championships in Durban before taking silver in the same distance at the 2008 Beijing Paralympics, said it was important that Opportunities Days continued.

“You want to produce well rounded individuals, so it’s [Opportunities Day] very important because kids get the opportunity to look at different career options, and work out what they want to do,” she said.

“There is a range of opportunities here that they wouldn’t normally have.”