Nurturing dreams

“My ambition didn’t grow out of nowhere. It was planted in me by a community that nurtured me.”

– Dr Michael Eric Dyson, Professor of Sociology

Since I started at MacIntyre in August, I’ve been involved in coordinating a number of steering groups focused on Person Centred Planning and co-production. One thing that seems to keep coming up in our conversations is, how do we help people we support to be ambitious for themselves? How do we help people to try out new things and explore their hopes and dreams? How do we help people to “learn new things that are important to them”?

Sometimes, as staff, we may not feel too ambitious for ourselves. We might have young children or elderly parents to care for, and so our dream might just be to go on holiday and have a rest! We might feel very happy with our lives and enjoy our daily routine, and peace and quiet. Ambitions do not have to be big dreams like climbing a mountain or running a marathon – they should be person-centred, like everything else we do.

So how do we, as staff, empower people to fulfil their hopes and dreams? There is lots of literature in the business sector about fostering ambition, which we may be able to learn from. Here are some suggested key principles.

1. Believe that anything is possible

We might dream of taking up a new hobby, being able to take the bus independently, going on holiday, working in a shop, losing weight or making new friends. Dreams are important: just as Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech motivated people in the US Civil Rights movement to take action, our dreams can help us believe that we too can change things in our own lives. At Ceely Road in Aylesbury, a person we support was petrified of flying and her family told staff that, once, a plane had to turn back because the lady could not cope with the flight. However, with a very facilitative staff team, this person is now able to take flights to visit family who live overseas – just one example of how people can surprise themselves and us with what they are able to achieve.

2. Create a realistic plan

Have you reviewed the person centred plans for the people you support recently? Have they taken up any new activities in the past few months or years? How long have they been going to their clubs and do they still enjoy them? Use your next person centred review to think ambitiously for the people you support – how could they be stretched and challenged (as OFSTED would say) to try something new or different that is still realistic for them to achieve?

3. Focus on the positive things that the person might gain

“That’s all very well, but what about all these risk assessments that we have to complete!” Of course, new activities have to be planned for and the potential risks considered. However, we all take risks in our daily lives – how many of us would get into a car if we thought too closely about the risk of dying (1 in 6700, according to the Harvard School of Public Health)? Perhaps we should empower the adults we support to take a few, calculated risks themselves every so often? Try to focus on the benefits for the person, rather than let very unlikely risks put you off from trying out what might be possible.

4. Challenge the person to keep trying

Often we can try something new and it doesn’t work out so we are put off from trying again. Did you know that it took 147 attempts by the Wright Brothers to get their plane to fly? It only flew for 7 seconds the first time. Thomas Edison made 805 tiny adjustments before his lightbulb worked. If things don’t work so well the first time, reflect on what happened and try again, making some small tweaks or adjustments. It might take a few attempts to get it right for the person, but what amazing outcomes might result with a bit of perseverance!

5. Try out new things today – don’t keep putting them off

Being creative and trying out new things can be hard – it can be easier to say we can’t try until the weather gets better or the minibus is fixed or the person has got over their cold. The recent MacIntyre Health Case Study is a good example of how a Milton Keynes service created a small steps plan to enable someone we support to lose weight. Staff slowly helped the person to reduce the number of sandwiches they were eating, before they started to encourage them to switch from eating sandwiches or crisps to eating a piece of fruit instead. Breaking big goals down into small steps can be a good way to get started and stay motivated.

6. Celebrate success

Don’t forget to celebrate what you accomplish, both the small steps and big dreams. Perhaps you could mark the occasion with the person’s favourite meal for dinner, or a photo and achievement certificate to display in their room. Ask the person what they would like to do to celebrate and mark what they have achieved.

Just like us, the people we support can have small dreams or big ambitions. Here are some examples of people with learning disabilities fulfilling their big dreams, which I hope might inspire you to dream big and start small:

  • At 21, John Cronin (who has downs syndrome) was running a successful online socks store with his Dad, and was featured in Time magazine:
  • Yulissa Arescurenaga (who also has downs syndrome) is a licensed zuma instructor:
  • Susan Boyle (who has autism) became a successful singer after appearing on Britain’s Got Talent in 2009:
  • Finally, MacIntyre’s Jess Hiles, who is a published author:

Please share your stories about how you have helped someone you support to be ambitious, to achieve their dream or try out something new. Or tell us about a person with a learning disability who you believe is an inspiration to others. Let’s keep being dream makers, not dream takers!

“Do you have a dream, is there something you would really like to do? I have lots of dreams and I have made a few come true.”

– Jess Hiles

For assistance with person centred planning and reviews, please contact Catherine Farrell (, MacIntyre’s Person Centred Approaches Advisor.

Anne Wilshin
Head of Quality



  • Emma Killick says:

    Thanks Anne – that’s a challenging question “how do we all help to “foster ambition” in ourselves and in those around us”? – some very interesting ideas and suggestions for us all to think about.

  • Kate Webb says:

    What an interesting blog Anne – some valuable factual information there, thankyou for sharing. For me this is a reminder that the people we support may want to do more than they already are, although they may seem happy and content with their daily routines and their clubs etc, we should perhaps be thinking more about this and support them to be challenged by things they may want to experience. As staff maybe we need to find more creative ways to support this.

  • Isalet Mutua says:

    Sometimes staff may give up quite easily and make excuses for it eg “it’s their choice” but we all need to challenge the person to keep trying. Ties in well with Postcards from Aspie World by Hayden Larder. (MacIntyre colleagues can find these on Yammer).

  • Alicia Dominguez says:

    Thank you to sharing this post, only people who takes things get difficult to reach know how much is the meaning of fighting for it.
    I really appreciate this post.

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