A Cross Hands firm has handed a new lease of life to a Gwendreath Valley man with a learning disability by giving him his dream job.

Castell Howell Foods’ latest recruit is Simon Batten, who now works for the distribution company up to four days each week as a driver’s mate.

Simon, who spent his childhood in the cab of a truck with his lorry-driver dad, teamed up with Castell Howell, based at Cross Hands Business Park, thanks to the efforts of the Carmarthenshire People First Job Club, which helps people with learning disabilities prepare themselves for the job market.

Simon, supported by the Job Club’s Tom Clarke, successfully completed a three-week trial with Castell Howell and was delighted to have been offered a permanent position.

“Working as a driver’s mate is my dream job,” said Simon.

“I was brought up with my dad working on the lorries so it was always something I want to do, but I never thought I would get the chance.

“If it was not for Tom and the Job Club I would not have been given this chance to prove myself.

“I was stuck on benefits before because I could not get a job, but since I have started working I know I have changed dramatically.

“I was signing on for a number of years and thought I would never get a job – all I ever wanted was a chance.

“This is the perfect job for me.

“I am doing a job I love doing and I am just so grateful to the Tom at the Job Club for believing in me and to Castell Howell for giving me the opportunity to prove myself.”

Castell Howell Transport Manager Johnny Harries said: “We gave Simon a trial period to prove he was up to the job and from there we had no hesitation in offering him a permanent position.

“Tom from Carmarthenshire People First Job Club approached us and we were happy to give Simon a chance to come and work with us.

“Simon is now part of the team and we have no doubt we’ll be offering him extra hours over the summer.”

The Job Club came about after people with learning disabilities expressed disappointment in the services previously available to help them find work.

Since its creation the scheme has been a resounding success with 25 percent of members now in full-time employment and more than 60 percent in volunteer positions, which have been helping them find the confidence to seek paid employment.

“The Job Club has been a resounding success across the board,” said Tom Clarke.

“Every single person we have worked with has been on a significant personal journey.

“It is not simply about finding paid employment - many of the members were so far away from ever getting a job it was not something they could even imagine.

“As well as finding work, the Job Club has been about giving people the belief in themselves they need to get into the cycle of looking for work.

“They are all now in a position where they can approach potential employers. The change in people such as Simon is incredible when you give them the chance to prove themselves.”

“Castell Howell in particular have been fantastic.

“They have been very supportive from the time I first approached them.

“Simon could not have asked for a better company to work for.”

However, The Job Club faces an uncertain future.

Tom’s position had previously been funded by a BILD – The British Institute of Learning Disabilities – grant, but that money is set to run out at the end of June.

“The BILD funding is no longer available after this month so we are desperately hoping that either the Welsh Government or Carmarthenshire County Council will be able to offer support for something which is transforming people’s lives by helping them get off benefits and find work.”

Carmarthenshire People First is an advocacy charity for people with learning disabilities in Carmarthenshire.