Langdon is doing its students proud
Hannah Levy has found employment after gaining educational and living skills at Langdon
Twenty-year-old Hannah Levy was born with Down's syndrome, developed serious speech difficulties and has undergone major heart surgery. Yet despite having to converse in sign language, she is holding down a part-time job in retail, is a popular Hale Synagogue congregant and recently played percussion in a classical concert at the Royal Northern College of Music.
For her parents Michael and Alayne, her development is vindication of their decision to move from Twickenham to Hale in south Manchester so Hannah could attend Langdon - the only post-16 college where she could both acquire a Jewish education and independent living skills.
Mrs Levy has been impressed by the Salford college's ability to tailor its programmes to the individual needs of students with learning difficulties - a "refreshing" approach she had not found elsewhere. It has also inspired her to become a Langdon governor.
Now furthering an innovative tradition, Langdon is adding a £100,000 retail enterprise programme plus new facilities designed for the strictly Orthodox community. It's a move which could increase capacity by one-third at a time of looming public spending cuts.
But Langdon governors' chair Joy Wolfe maintains: "We have to try to ensure that any cutbacks in education do not mean the goalposts are moved for enabling parents and their children to access both residential and day placements with us."
There are just 20 places available at the college, although it is looking to increase that number by five through opening a charity shop as a social enterprise. This will also provide in-house supported employment for students. The retail qualifications gained will dramatically increase their chances of finding jobs after college, freeing many from welfare reliance.
Ex-Langdon student David Moss has beaten severe dyslexia to do just that. Born deaf, although his hearing was saved through surgery, the 26-year-old Liverpudlian completed culinary training. He has been a commis chef in one of Manchester's top hotels and now holds down a full-time cook's job in a bar on Deansgate in the heart of the city centre. Nevertheless, his favourite meal prepared at the Prestwich flat he is now able to rent is a gourmet Shabbat dinner.
"My parents are definitely proud of what I've achieved. I can't say Liverpool is my second home - my dad will kill me - but I love the feeling of being in Manchester, of being in my own place."
His first career break was when Langdon supported work experience with kosher caterer Celia Clyne. But Langdon College principal Christopher Mayho says finding other employers to support a vocational qualification can be difficult. Hence the importance of the charity shop venture.
"It's important to give more students the chance to develop employability skills and qualifications, which we can run through our own business," he said.
"If we are fortunate to expand those educational programmes from retail to other vocations, we may go down the route of our own catering or hairdressing establishment, but these are just ideas for now."
The programme for young Charedi adults with learning difficulties will help to maintain their way of life through attending shuls, yeshivot and a dedicated residential facility reflecting their religious background.
Nava Kestenbaum, Manchester director for the Charedi Interlink charity, stresses the importance of the placements, due to be offered for September 2011.
"We've spoken to representatives of up to 60 Manchester families who would look to benefit from Langdon in the coming years. Previously families were faced with funding their own unstructured programmes or struggling to get children on to placements in London or Israel."
Mr Mayho said the programme would be funded through the council-administered grants which finance its other students.
"We devise our programmes to meet the needs of the individual. Strictly Orthodox young people are not different in that. We are very excited about this opportunity to work more closely with the Charedi community."