A rollercoaster year for Project SEARCH ends with perfect placement opportunity

November 19, 2020 - Martin Currie

The Project SEARCH programme at Ayrshire College provides an excellent opportunity for young people in Ayrshire who have learning difficulties and/or are on the autistic spectrum, to enter the world of work. 

The programme develops the participants’ competitive, transferable, and marketable skills needed for successful employment, by undertaking three different work placements. The course runs in East Ayrshire at University Hospital Crosshouse and in South Ayrshire at the National Trust for Scotland’s Culzean estate near Maybole and has delivered impressive results in getting young people into employment.

However, this year’s course has not been immune to the challenges posed by Covid-19.

Here Clare Baird, Employability and Engagement Officer at Ayrshire College, gives an honest account of how 2020 has been for the South Ayrshire based programme – reflecting on the ups and downs, and looking ahead to an exciting final placement.

Who knew back in February 2020, when we had to delay the start of our third Project SEARCH course based out at Culzean because of a ferocious winter storm, that it would be a sign of the year ahead?

“Our eight new interns settled really quickly into their new routines – being out on site five days a week can come as a bit of a shock, but then the programme is designed to mimic real life as much as possible. 


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“As winter turned to spring the interns started their first rotation in their new departments and all was going well…

“However; that is not how it continued for the year. As with every walk of life, the end of March saw the programme close - along with the college, the site, and pretty much everywhere else.

“We switched to working with the students online as best as possible, teaching them to use video calls, join online workshops and complete their college work as best as possible. As the summer drew to an end, a glimmer of hope arose that we could get back out onsite.

“The site we returned to was incredibly different. The toll the pandemic had had on the National Trust for Scotland was vast, and sadly a lot of the staff we had worked with previously had not returned from furlough. 

“Due to practical reasons it was decided that the safest route for us to work was outside – fortunately there is plenty of space and always plenty of work to complete. 

“Kitted out in our PPE, we set to work undertaking lots of different conservation, grounds and gardening tasks. The interns learnt about path management, tree planting, building raised beds, apple picking, clearing working areas and using a large variety of tools.

“Our interns completed eight weeks of practical work in all the glory of the Scottish weather, and as their second rotation came to an end we needed to face the reality of going into rotation three without the placements our job coach from Girvan Youth Trust had worked so hard over the summer to secure. 

“Sadly the pandemic had resurfaced and this meant that several of the retail placements that had been secured were no longer a viable option; although we are eternally grateful to the Carrick Centre in Maybole who were able to offer an administrative placement for one of our interns.

“A lot of head scratching and meetings took place to try and work out what employment opportunity we could get to give our interns the most appropriate and valuable work experience.

“Fortunately for us, our partners at Girvan Youth Trust had an idea. They work in the community of South Carrick and due to the pandemic there were a lot of projects that had stalled or new ones that needed to be addressed. Our final rotation is now based in Girvan and the first task has been to tidy up an area of Memorial Park known as the Rose Garden.  We will be down here for the next six weeks on the run up to Christmas and the end of our course. 

“We couldn’t be prouder of the interns we have had this year, they really have stepped up to all the challenges of the year and worked so hard to overcome all the trials and tribulations of this unprecedented year.”

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