Inspiring Hearts, Engaging Minds (IHEM)

Funded by BIG Lottery (People's Projects) with funds awarded from The National Lottery, the Muscle Help Foundation (MHF) charity’s ‘Inspiring Hearts, Engaging Minds’ (herein known as ‘IHEM’) pilot programme was designed specifically for young adults with Muscular Dystrophy (MD).

The overarching goal was to ‘support participants to give a voice to their work-related ambitions, to explore their employment aspirations by directly engaging with several employers with the aim to provide an empowering work-placement opportunity but also to maximise learning throughout the IHEM experience’.

The IHEM pilot programme was developed and delivered by the MHF charity in collaboration with several facilitators. The programme consisted of three main components:

  1. Two-day event with sessions to prepare participants for the workplace
  2. Work placements at five (5) companies based in Hertfordshire and London
  3. Feedback event for all participants
There were three (3) key objectives to the aforementioned two-day event that focused on development of the following key areas:

  1. Confidence
  2. Communication
  3. Networking


Using ideas generated at the Brainstorming Workshops, the MHF Core Team was identified to design and deliver the programme on a voluntary basis – the key members of this team were:

  • Prog Design & Delivery (I) – Sue McGrath (MHF Volunteer/Trustee)
  • Prog Design & Delivery (II) – Sonali Kumarakulasinghe (MHF Volunteer)
  • Project Management – Steve Weeks (MHF Volunteer)
  • Project Sponsor – Michael McGrath (MHF CEO)


Additionally, specialist advisors around specifically young people and work were identified to provide input at the various stages during the programme design.


University of Hertfordshire

Centre for Lifespan & Chronic Illness Research [CLiCIR]

Dr David Wellsted, Dr Sarah Jane Besser & Rachel Mellor, PHD student


Leading UK charity for children with life-threatening & life-limiting conditions: Together for Short Lives

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    Authors – Key Programme Design & Delivery:

    Sue McGrath

    Sonali Kumarakulasinghe

    Authors – Impact Evaluation Report

    Dr Sarah Jane Besser

    Dr David Wellsted

    Dr Silvana Mengoni

    Centre for Health Services and Clinical Research

    University of Hertfordshire

    School of Life and Medical Sciences

    University of Hertfordshire


    The charity secured interest and support from six (6) diverse Hertfordshire based companies to directly participate in the IHEM pilot programme:

    1. International Pharmaceutical Company – GSK (GlaxoSmithKline plc)
    2. International Aerospace & Defence Company – Airbus
    3. Multinational Computer Services IT Company – Computacenter
    4. Herts Business Membership Organisation – Herts Chamber of Commerce
    5. Social Media (SME) Company – SM2 Communicate
    6. Leisure Services – Stevenage Leisure Limited (SLL)


    Thanks to GSK (GlaxoSmithKline plc), MHF was able to liaise directly with Seeker, a Digital Media Network Company, in San Francisco, USA who generously provided a unique robot to human communication interaction called “Double”.


    Three (3) of the charity’s past beneficiary community provided input into the stakeholder meetings and also had input into elements of IHEM’s delivery.


    • Michael McGrath – MHF’s CEO
    • Sue McGrath – MHF Core Team (Programme Design & Delivery Lead)
    • Sonali Kumarakulasinghe – MHF Core Team (Programme Design & Delivery Lead)
    • Steve Weeks – MHF Core Team, Volunteer (Project Management)
    • Lydia Drukarz – MHF Event Manager)
    • Helen Dye (ex-Prince’s Trust) – Consultant Advisor
    • Jacquie Smallwood – MHF Volunteer (Brainstorming Workshop Facilitator)
    • Will Ferguson – MHF Volunteer (Photography & Filming)
    • Gary Perlmutter – MHF Volunteer (Photography) – click HERE to view official IHEM photos


    •  Ellen Atkinson – Pathway to Employment Specialist
    • Sue Duraikan – Communications Training Specialist
    • Andy Lopata – Networking Specialist
    • Debbie Roberts – Engage Visually, who produced facilitated individual storyboards aligned to each participants’ aspirations and aims
    • Elly Codiroli – Restorative Yoga & Meditation (carer session)
    • Leah Booth – Entrepreneurship, MHF Ambassador & inspiring speaker
    • Stacey Curzon – Youth Worker, Rainbows Hospice for Children & Young People
    • Helen Dye (ex-Prince’s Trust) – Consultant Advisor

    Participants were invited to attend a two-day residential weekend event to take part in several planned activities – the aim was to enhance skills needed for the workplace. Sessions included:

    • Networking
    • Communication
    • Goal setting
    • Employability skills
    • Self-esteem building
    • Motivation
    • Preparing for the possibility of a work placement


    Representatives from the aforementioned six companies attended this event, delivering presentations giving a snapshot of their working environments.

    The programme grew and evolved as time progressed to meet the needs of the participants in their journey to prepare for the world of work – the IHEM programme development continued beyond the two-day event to include the offer of a work placement at a company for each participant.

    MHF extended the IHEM programme to include several additional components that were not part of the original project plan, including:

    • Social contracts
    • Support with CV writing
    • A workplace buddy to assist participants throughout their work placement

    MHF also identified a need to ensure companies offering placements were able to provide support and a suitable working environment:

    • Info was provided to companies about muscular dystrophy
    • Support info included Disability Etiquette Training insights

    IHEM’s closing feedback event provided a platform for:

    • All IHEM participants to attend (with carers) to share their experiences
    • For company representatives to celebrate participant achievements
    • For project supporters & IHEM team members to thank everyone


    As stated earlier, the three key objectives that underpinned the two-day event focused specifically on the following key areas:

    1. Confidence
    2. Communication
    3. Networking




    Michael McGrath, MHF’s Founder & CEO said:

    “It’s my hope that IHEM will in some measure help to perhaps provide further insight but also contribute to supporting the ongoing conversation around employment for people with disabilities. Looking at the world of work today through a lens of originality, of innovation, IHEM broadened horizons.

    IHEM evidences the talents, the skills and the value that a group of individuals when given an opportunity, will flourish and find that sense of purpose in work that many take for granted. Disability is everyone’s business – according to the Disabled Living Foundation (DLF), 80% of disabilities are acquired between the ages of 18 and 64yrs, the workforce age.

    Despite the continued efforts of many excellent disability employment specialists doing outstanding work in providing sustainable employment opportunities, there is still more to be done in widening the provision of work and by default, life experiences, for young people with for example Muscular Dystrophy (MD). I’ve witnessed how the opportunity of work can enrich a young person’s life, giving fulfilment, motivation and hope for the future.”


    “The IHEM programme has clearly shown to be successful in terms of skill improvement for participants. There was an increase in confidence for participants, which was maintained at one-year follow-up post-programme.

    The other clear impact of the IHEM programme was the companies who hosted the work placements, where they learned about the benefits and challenges of employing an individual with a disability.”

    SOURCE: Dr Sarah Jane Besser

    Centre for Health Services and Clinical Research

    At the two-day event, participants were guided to develop the key skills needed to successfully navigate the workplace – both participants and their carers rated the value of the programme sessions highly.

    After the programme was completed, all groups of participants were extremely positive about the IHEM programme and what they had gained from it.

    Many participants discussed how the IHEM programme had broadened their skills and experiences.

    “There is clear evidence that the IHEM programme met its targets of enhancing confidence and networking skills for all participants.

    The ‘power to communicate’ session was rated as excellent in the majority of cases, and there is evidence from some participants that the programme was able to improve communication skills, although this was not discussed as frequently and consistently by participants, as were skills in confidence and networking.”

    SOURCE: Dr Sarah Jane Besser

    Centre for Health Services and Clinical Research

    Michael McGrath, MHF’s Founder & CEO added:

    “For those with rare diseases, conditions that are genetically inherited (like muscular dystrophy), the journey into the world of work is very often difficult and challenging – it can be incredibly overwhelming. Why is this still the case in 2020? Finding employment opportunities that are fulfilling and accessible for all is a mission that I know many organisations are working hard on to realise - it's a mission that matters.  

    In a small way, I hope that IHEM plays a part in continuing to influence change. If it helps to move the thinking of an employer, no matter where they’re at on their disability inclusion journey, then this project and the commitment of all stakeholders in addition to the learning’s has been useful.

    That said, the charity is proud of this work and the outcomes – I am hugely proud of each IHEM participant who openly brought their whole selves in engaging in the programme. I am proud of the employers who listened, supported and committed to the process. I am immensely proud of IHEM’s core team who worked on a voluntary basis to ensure the project and its plans were executed to the best of our ability with the resources available.

    And of course, I am immensely grateful to those who helped facilitate what initially started out as a vision to help give young people in our community a unique opportunity to participate in an empowering and different experience, giving them a voice, anchored in the world of work – particular thanks must go to the University of Hertfordshire.

    My original motivation for IHEM came from speaking over many years with parents who shared with me that their sons were spending hours a day in front of their TV’s, on their XBOX’s and their PlayStation consoles, playing games such as Gran Turismo, Minecraft, Read Dead Redemption II, Grand Theft Auto and FIFA 20, the football simulation video game.

    I know many talented young adults with muscular dystrophy across the country who have so much to give. Whilst there are many organisations championing the benefits to employers of working with disabled people, the conversation about achieving potential and having purpose remains.

    Whilst the fantastical world of online gaming shows no signs of slowing down, it is anticipated that there will be more than three billion gamers by 2023 (Source: Statista, Oct 2020).

    One of IHEM’s aims was to create an immersive moment-in-time that was inclusive, enabling, memorable and mutually beneficial to both the programme participants and the employers – IHEM achieved this.”

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