"I felt I was part of the world again"

Employment Support Service Client

Employment Support has made a huge difference to my life. I feel confident to go out and socialise. I feel important, listened to, valued, treated with respect, and spoken to respectfully. It’s opened doors for me.

The Employment Support service helps people when they recover from illness and are at a crossroads in their lives and are standing there and don’t know which options to choose.

They come in when you say, “I’m okay now and I’m looking towards the future. I’m looking at study and employment but I don’t know where to begin.”

It was around 2009 when I was put in touch with my Employment Specialist. We met over a coffee at a local café and she asked me what I saw my future career as and how I could make it a reality.

At the time it was my dream to be a teacher but I didn’t know what steps to take to get there.

I had been a mentor to access students when I was studying my HND in Applied Biology and so I felt I had the natural ability to teach but not the knowledge to get to the position of becoming a teacher.

Having employment support made me feel positive. I felt somebody was really listening to me, was going to do the best for me. She had that confidence in me that I was going to get where I wanted to be – even if I didn’t.

It was almost like learning to ride a bike. Someone is holding onto the back of your bike and then slowly letting go; you can’t quite perceive they’re letting go and you think they’re doing a marvellous job but you look behind and they’re not there! You’re the one doing the marvellous job! That’s what support is like.

It was enormously important to have someone sit with me and say it was possible. She broke down barriers and gave me the confidence to break down those barriers too. She gave me motivation, confidence, and self-belief.

My journey into education began with an email from my Employment Specialist saying there was a voluntary job for one hour per week mentoring students at a community education centre.

It was just for one hour a week but it would take me one hour and 45 minutes to get there! I was reluctant because of the distance but my worker said it would make a difference. I trusted her – I trusted her opinion.

And it turned out well – the students really enjoyed talking to me, a lot of them got their certificates, and I greatly enjoyed working there. It started in 2010 and finished in 2012.

As time went by, I had meetings, phone calls, and email conversations with my Employment Specialist every few weeks. Because of my voluntary work and because I wanted to progress, I applied and was accepted onto the Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector course (PTLLS) at City College.

It was challenging and tough but I really enjoyed it. I was supported all the time with phone calls and emails whilst I was studying. My Employment Specialist didn’t disappear. We’d still meet for coffee and discuss my feelings and thoughts about the present, the future, and sometimes the past.

It was at that point I saw an advert for a CACHE Level 3 Teaching and Learning in Schools qualification at Varndean College. I was given tremendous support in writing that application and I passed the course with a Grade A!

I saw myself differently – I gained confidence. I began to believe in myself again. And I began to believe anything was possible. I was beginning to find my own motivation and was riding that bike further and further with less support.

I felt I was part of the world again. I was on the bus with other people. I was in a job.

I worked as a volunteer at a junior school but at that point there were was a setback because I couldn’t get a job as a teaching assistant. My Employment Specialist came in and said it was okay, it wasn’t a disaster and that we’d find another way. And that’s when we had an interesting meeting in autumn 2013. She said Southdown had won a contract for educational services and that I should teach.

She encouraged me to create a course on what I knew – which was study skills. I did this in my own time and I offered this course to Southdown. At the interview they were impressed with the materials and hired me as a course creator and teacher.

At the beginning of April 2014, I was given the role of Peer Trainer and my course, ‘Return to Learning’ was developed through co-production.

Around 2015, we had a conversation where it was suggested that I could do a PGCE because I have a degree in biological sciences. She helped me write the application form and my manager agreed to be my mentor. I was now riding that bike very well along the road. My Employment Specialist was behind me but not holding onto the seat anymore. She could see I had the confidence and motivation on my own now.

I’ve almost finished my PGCE and I’m going to try and do an MA in Education at the Open University. I didn’t talk to my Employment Specialist about it because she’s given me the confidence to do it on my own. I didn’t have to wait for her. I’m riding the bike up a hill and she’s watching from afar, smiling.

The support given by the Employment Support service is always appropriate for the stage you’re at – it’s very fluid. It changes. Our contact is lessening now and that is right. She celebrates my successes and sends me emails encouraging me still. They support you at the beginning and continue to support you in employment and can help with career progression. They don’t suddenly just leave you – they carry on supporting you until you don’t need them anymore.

I’ve also created my own business to teach people over 50. I feel proud, amazed. We’ve been talking about developing my business and I’m looking to expand. So today, I’m a business owner, I’m qualifying as a teacher, and I will be studying for an MA.

I feel amazed and I didn’t believe at the beginning that where I am today was possible. Employment Support has made a huge difference to my life. I feel confident to go out and socialise. I feel important, listened to, valued, treated with respect, and spoken to respectfully. It’s opened doors for me. I see myself differently. I see myself as a professional teacher doing valuable work for the community.

I want people to know that they’re better than they think they are and that they can achieve more than they think they can.

Our specialist employment support helps people access and retain paid work, complete education and training and get involved in volunteering. Employment Specialists work in partnership with Mental Health Recovery Teams in East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton and Hove to provide support tailored to individual needs, goals and aspirations.