How it all started

In 2001, we began as Skillnet Swale in Sittingbourne, Kent. The organisation was founded by Jo Kidd and Terry Thompson, working alongside adults with learning difficulties.


Jo was working for the Royal Society Mencap at the time. Her role was around supporting people with learning difficulties in East Kent to speak up for themselves. Through this work it became clear that people wanted to learn new skills to enable them to move into work. People wanted to be more independent. People also wanted to have more control over the organisation that supported them. They wanted to have control over how and what they learnt, and be fully involved in all the decision making.

At the same time, Terry was working in a local further education college. He was supporting groups of people with learning difficulties, care leavers, young offenders and other disadvantaged young people. He realised that what the college was offering was not good enough. People were placed together in very large groups (around 30 people being supported by one lecturer) with little regard for individual needs. Many people found college daunting and unfriendly and did not feel that they were learning things that they wanted to learn.

So Jo and Terry thought that they could support people to develop something better, something in which they were fully involved in all decision-making. Somewhere that people could learn real life skills and would be treated fairly, equally and with respect. They spoke to people with learning difficulties about the idea and people agreed with it. The main people in this initial group were Gerard Norton, Paul Noble and his Dad, Martin Walker, Carla and Ricky Green.

They formed a partnership group to plan the new service. This group involved people with learning difficulties, some family members and friends and colleagues from social services, health and adult education and further education. With the support of the Commissioners for Health and Learning Disability Services at Kent County Council, Skillnet Swale was born! We called it a Community Open Learning Service at the beginning. This was to make it clear that it was different from a day centre or college.

Some of the first members of the organisation included: Graham Vernon, who used his links from his previous role in a local further education college to develop opportunities for people to do courses with us. Michelle Huggins, who also worked for Royal Society Mencap, used her skills and expertise in personnel and training to build and strengthen the team.

People around the county heard about what we were doing in Sittingbourne, and that people were fully involved in making the decisions at Skillnet Swale. People wanted something similar in their areas. So Skillnet Thanet and Skillnet Dover were born a couple of years later and we became Skillnet Group in 2002.

Jo and Terry are now developing a new environmental and social justice project in Canterbury, The Abbot’s Mill Project:  They can be contacted at [email protected]

Where we are now

Since the organisation began, each of our services or projects has been developed and evolved differently, based on the needs and interests of the local people involved. We have run many different groups, projects, social firms and courses based on what people have wanted or needed.

In 2016, we were successful in getting funding from the Local Sustainability Fund to improve our communication and marketing. As a social business with limited funds, this was an area of work we had previously been unable to focus on and put resources into. We wanted to do it well, so we formed a partnership with a local company called Family Business Place (FBP). FBP are experts in branding and communications, and work with heart-led businesses who really care about their work and the people involved. 

The first part of our work together was to find out what people thought of Skillnet and how what we do compared with what else was going on locally. We did some market research and FBP carried out a perception study for us. A perception study involved talking to a wide range of people we work with to find out what people think of us and how they would describe our work.

In the study, people told us...

your support is excellent:

"You make me feel I’m going to work like the rest of my family.
You continued supporting us even when the programme ended.
Skillnet gives me confidence that I can do quite difficult things."

you have influence but could have much more impact:

"Skillnet challenges perceptions.
You could do more to raise your profile.
Skillnet has a much-needed voice for people with learning difficulties"

So we decided we needed to focus on two themes: excellence & influence. We knew we didn't need or want to change the direction of our work, but to achieve excellence and influence, we needed to reach people and be clear about what we do. We need to stand out and be more memorable so we can achieve our goals that people with learning difficulties and autism gain skills, jobs and an equal place in society.

We also realised that there was another organisation in the area called Skillnet. The other Skillnet also does some similar work to us on apprenticeships and we did not want to be confused with them.  We started to think about changing our name and the way we look. We worked with Family Business Place and, after lots of hard work, consultation, discussion and debate, agreed on a new name and branding.

From 11th June 2018, we became bemix and changed our strapline to:

be seen ∙ be heard ∙ belong

You can see our branding throughout the website. Click on our logo below to see how our new branding looks in print!

About our name

The name bemix combines be and mix.

be stands for beyond expectations.

We challenge expectations of what people with learning difficulties and/or autism can achieve. We aim to achieve excellence and go beyond expectations.

mix celebrates the diverse mix of people in our organisation and promotes inclusion in society.

We’re working towards a world in which all people are equally valued. We still believe it is possible to organise society so everyone can be fully in the mix, and not excluded.

Our work, mission and values remain the same.

If you have a learning difficulty and/or autism, we’re working towards a world in which you have an equal place and voice. It’s possible to organise society so everyone can be fully in the mix, and not excluded. We’re committed to people as individuals. You should be supported to achieve your goals and dreams. We’re advocating for your right to choice and control over your own life.

We believe you should be seen, be heard and belong in the local community, including workplaces. We believe that a good society needs everyone’s contribution. We continue to be motivated by compassion and respect. We support each other and believe that working together as equals benefits everyone.

Our work doesn't end here

We have big plans for the future. We still haven't achieved our vision of a society where everyone, including people with learning difficulties and/or autism, can be seen, be heard and belong. Until we reach that goal, we will keep working hard.

People with learning difficulties accomplish so much in our projects. People learn, create and campaign; they do what they love. People gain confidence and independence. People speak up. For some, bemix is the only place they feel a genuine equal.  We’re proud of that.

In the next three years we hope every project will be inspired to:

  • Be regularly seen and heard in their local community
  • Invite people from their local community into their project

And our vision is to become excellent & influential:

  • Renowned as a centre for excellence in how people with and without learning difficulties work together
  • Powerful in our communications, and influential for change

Download our 3 year plan below: