About us

The South West Employment Institute (SWEI) was set up as a not for profit CiC in 2012. The team consists of professionals who are well known for their expertise in supported employment and self-employment. All are committed to moving the practice forward, are experts in their field, and have many years of relevant experience.  



Anne has promoted full time paid employment for all people with learning disabilities and autistic spectrum conditions since 1979. She trained at the University of Oregon in techniques for working with people with profound learning disability and initiated two electronics assembly businesses providing paid employment. In the 1980s she was at the forefront of the development of individual supported employment. When she moved to the UK in 1990 she joined the NDT to develop and improve supported employment services in the UK and Europe.

She has assisted individuals, families, employers and service providers in programme design and continuous improvement. Inspired by her brother, Larry – one of the first people to be diagnosed with autism, she has focused on quality of life improvement. To Anne, having a worthwhile job is one aspect of a life worth living. She has written and presented extensively on this subject.

Since 2013 Anne has led European Project SEARCH programme development. She is also a founding member of the South West Employment Institute.



Steve Beyer

Stephen Beyer - PhD

Steve Beyer is the Deputy Director of the Welsh Centre for Learning Disabilities at Cardiff University. He has been a researcher in the area of learning disability services for over 25 years. For about fifteen of those years, Steve has been involved in researching supported employment to help people get jobs and is considered to be the top researcher in Europe on supported employment. He is also very interested in helping young people with a learning disability to have better options when they leave school, particularly in having more access to employment. Steve is a founder member and Chair of the South West Employment Institute.





Carol Robinson

Carol Robinson - PhD, MBE

Carol began her career as a social worker working mainly with children.

She became interested in families with disabled children and was active in developing community projects to support them. She moved to Bristol to do a PhD and then followed a research career. She was a founder member of the Norah Fry Research Centre at the University of Bristol and was a Reader there until 2001.

Carol had a secondment to the Social Services Inspectorate (now CQC) before becoming Director of the South West Learning Disability Network. In 2006, she took up two regional roles, working for both the Valuing People Support Team and the Regional Centre of Excellence.

Carol helped set up the South West Employment Network in 2006.

As a freelance consultant since 2008, Carol has done a wide variety of research and development projects relating to both children and adults with disabilities. Carol has an active interest in transition to adulthood and sees employment as key to people being seen as active citizens.

Carol has published a number of books and articles and is best known for her work on short breaks and support for families.



Keith Bates - Holder of the Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion

Keith is currently Head of Employment at the Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities where he also leads the pioneering In Business programme supporting people with a learning disability explore the option of self-employment and small business ownership. This programme has developed a range of tools, guides and supports available kb2at www.learningdisability.org.uk including the Rapid Enterprise Development workshops (RED).

Keith has been active in developing social enterprises and co-operatives for and with people with disabilities for the past twenty five years. He splits his time between working at the Foundation and running a development consultancy and a number of social enterprises in the South West.

Having supported the establishment of A Clean Sweep Co-operative Ltd, set up in 1995 and understood to be the first company wholly owned and run by people with a learning disability in the UK, he continues to develop new initiatives and is a Founding Director of Jigsaw Catering Co-op Ltd, Boss Employment CIC and Sixteen. Previously, Keith was also a trustee of Social Firms UK, the umbrella organisation for a type of social enterprise specifically set up to provide employment.

Keith was presented with the Queens Award for Enterprise Promotion in 2011 for his work supporting people with a learning disability.



Liz Garnham

Liz Garnham

Liz is a Self-Employed Trainer and Consultant in Supported Employment and Occupational Therapy services, being best known for her delivery of Training in Systematic Instruction courses across the country. Liz was part of the first cohort to receive this training in the UK, delivered by Marc Gold & Associates in 1987.

Liz trained as an Occupational Therapist and credits this for her belief that we are defined by our occupations and people with learning disabilities will eternally surprise us by their achievements if we find the right environment and teach them well. Her career has spanned Hospital & Community services for People with Learning Disabilities, and Vocational Services for people with Mental Health Support Needs. Liz specialised in managing change through service development including Community Therapy, Supported Living and Supported Employment Services. As a Lecturer-Practitioner at the School of Allied Health Professionals, University of East Anglia, she delivered the Learning Disabilities and Health Policy curricula as well as participating in research projects.

In the last five years Liz has been involved with the development of Project SEARCH sites; most recently working on behalf of PS Cincinnati to conduct formal Continuous Improvement Reviews in the UK.



Steve Parr

Stephen Parr - MBE

Stephen Parr has over 37 years experience of delivering disability and diversity recruitment solutions across UK. With extensive knowledge of the disability and employment agenda Stephen is recognised nationally as a field leader in increasing employer capacity across public, private and voluntary sectors to successfully attract recruit, employ and retain disabled people as part of a sustainable workforce.

As an experienced consultant & trainer Stephen continues to develop innovative and practical ways to support business and disabled people to secure long term employer, employee relationships. He is a skilled ‘hands on practitioner & technician’ who demonstrates through a ‘show, teach, try and fly approach to his clients that builds trust, confidence, commitment and capacity.




Helen Maunder

Helen Maunder

Helen Maunder has spent the majority of her career in national strategic marketing roles in the utility and financial services sectors.

Helen joined the SW Centre of Excellence in May 2006 after a decade in consultancy working in part with public sector Clients in support of eGov agenda initiatives, business transformation and communication and customer service strategy projects. As the Programme Manager for Adult Services at the Centre of Excellence/ Regional Improvement and Efficiency Partnership, Helen’s focus was on a range of projects in the learning disability sector.

Helen has a Bachelor of Science Degree from The University of Surrey, a Master of Science degree from The University of Southampton and was a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing until her retirement in 2010.

Outside work Helen is a qualified canine behavioural counsellor and dog trainer, dotes on her two dogs and plays tennis as often as the weather will permit!



Avril Mendel

Avril Mendel

A qualified commissioner, planner and manager of services with experience of supported employment, community development, contracting and commissioning, project management, planning and development and grant bidding within the statutory and voluntary sector.

Amongst other things, Avril works to support people with disabilities into real jobs where they fulfill their employment aspirations, and achieve social and economic inclusion. This work includes building partnership with employers and the development and facilitation of a local Employer Network. She is skilled in involving professionals, employers, service users, family carers and other community stakeholders at local and national levels.

She leads on training around Access to Work funding that provides disabled people with job coach support ensuring success and development of a good career path.



Ruth TownsleyRuth Townsley - PhD

Ruth Townsley is an independent researcher currently working with SWEI on their evaluation of the WorkFit Wales project. Ruth has been self-employed since 2011, having previously worked as a Senior Research Fellow and Deputy Director of the University of Bristol’s Norah Fry Research Centre, and as an active researcher since 1992. Ruth has researched and published widely in the social policy arena, with a particular interest in social justice for disabled children, young disabled adults and adults with learning disabilities. She has worked closely with Carol Robinson and Steve Beyer on many learning disability-related projects over the years, including most recently (2012-14) a significant research study for the Welsh Government into the employment outcomes of young people with autism living in Wales.