"I have the feeling that nothing is impossible here"

Proof of Concept Employment Support

In this role, I see that one-to-one tailored support is invaluable. That’s what makes the difference. Southdown works to help remove some of the fear of the future and helps people understand and live better with their mental health challenges. 

I’m an Employment Specialist for Proof of Concept, which is a combined study and employment programme between Southdown and Brighton and Hove City Council, funded by the Department of Work and Pensions.

It’s a pre-pilot study to see whether a local organisation with mental health support experience is better placed to help people with mental health challenges get back into employment.

Brighton and Hove City Council is focusing on getting people with physical disability issues back into work, and Southdown is focusing on clients with mental health challenges.

My role is to support clients to help them find mainstream paid work. I see about three to four clients a day. Some clients are more difficult to engage with than others, so out of a total of 31, I have about 20 who are really engaging with the support.

Its one-to-one support using the Individual Placement and Support (IPS) approach as a guide where there’s a very clear framework to work towards. The IPS system is a proven way of working and Southdown is an IPS centre of excellence, accredited by the Centre for Mental Health.

My experience is that people with mental health challenges slowly move away from what they love and lose confidence as their mental health deteriorates. I help people identify the skills they didn’t know they had, then support them to stretch themselves. I like enabling people to push their boundaries. 

When someone goes for a job, there are so many hurdles that others might take for granted as being straight-forward. Each small step is massive for people experiencing poor mental health. Putting together a CV together for someone with high levels of anxiety and low levels of self-belief can be a real struggle. 

I’ve found that some people are slow burners and want to work up to full-time employment. 16 + hours is a big leap for some.

I started this role in January 2018 and I’m the only Southdown worker involved in this project. The freedom to start this project on my own has been a challenge but it’s been a healthy one for me. I knew I had an experienced Supported Employment team behind me and I have never felt I was on my own with it.

It was very difficult in the initial stages. My biggest challenge has been getting the service itself known. I’ve been going to team talks, sending mass emails, going to GP surgeries and community centres, and designing a project poster.

I spend a lot of time on my own, looking at jobs advertised online and checking on small business’s doorways for job adverts in the local area. This is part of Employer Engagement which is a necessary part of the role. I really enjoy this part of my job. It’s refreshing to see employers embrace mental health as a real component and integral part of society. 

There is a momentum of acceptance from employers who are now realising how difficult it is for employees to go back into work after a period of poor mental health. Things are definitely changing as employers recognise how much time is lost and how staff morale can be damaged due to mental health issues not being embraced as part of effective workforce planning. 

I’ve found young people are really much more understanding and accepting of mental health. I led a talk at South Downs College and I was flabbergasted at the difference between their attitudes compared to the older generation’s inherited attitudes. Their knowledge and genuine acceptance and empathy for those experiencing mental health issues really blew me off my feet.

There’s a lot of partnership working. Internally, working closely with my Southdown colleagues really helps. A great percentage of my referrals come from my colleagues in Brighton and Hove’s Homelessness Prevention and Mental Health Support Service. I get a good idea of what to expect from clients referred to me, and my colleagues very often introduce me to the clients so trust is often already in place which helps me enormously.

Externally, Brighton and Hove City Council’s Manager of the Physical Disability Team updates and speaks to me regularly – some of our clients fit in both camps, and the ultimate goal is for a client to get the best possible service regardless of who offers it. 

The Department of Work and Pensions often invites me to training and job fairs; and I regularly go out and meet other organisations to introduce the service and to work in partnership with them, such as schemes provided by housing associations to engage their tenants in jobs-focused training.

Southdown has a Work and Health unit based in the Jobcentre consisting of a clinical Occupational Therapist and a Southdown Employment Specialist. They triage those entering the Jobcentre to see if they are accessing the right mental health services they might need. Southdown also has Employment Specialists embedded in three other NHS clinical settings in Brighton and Hove who can all refer suitable clients to me. 

Southdown has worked extremely hard to go into Jobcentres and explain to staff about our service and the issues around availability and accessibility regarding mental health challenges as potential barriers to finding work. 

Southdown’s Supported Employment team has helped to change the perception of the Jobcentre and the perception and attitudes of the Job Coaches. People going to Jobcentres said they felt more secure and listened to, and generally less scared going in and seeking the right help. It’s great to see the benefits to Jobseekers from this hard work.

In this role, I see that one-to-one tailored support is invaluable. That’s what makes the difference. Southdown works to help remove some of the fear of the future and helps people understand and live better with their mental health challenges. Southdown gives what the Jobcentres do not have the resources or experience to provide. 

My passion is supporting clients to do something they didn’t feel capable of doing before.

I’ve learnt that work doesn’t just have to be about getting a wage – it can be enjoyable and gives routine and a sense of belonging for many clients. The best part of my job is being part of the whole process and seeing someone achieve, from having low confidence initially, to getting a job and feeling comfortable in life again.

When this role got advertised, it was an opportunity for me to try something new. I fancied a change. 

I went to night school for three years to study an Introduction to Counselling and then I did a foundation degree in person-centred counselling for two years at the University of Brighton. It pushed me right out of my comfort zone. I was then a Support Worker for five years and my previous experience has massively helped in my current role. But this is so new - I feel I am going on a journey with my clients. I feel their anxieties and low points but the upside is when they’re successful, I feel elated for, and with, them.

I had no training in employment support but it’s the best thing I ever did! Whole new avenues have opened up to me and the Southdown training is second to none - Southdown delivers it with passion. All the departments come together in training so you get to know people and start networking. It works. It all overlaps. There is a lot of support and inter-departmental help and everybody works with the same client-focused goal.

My day revolves around meeting clients and job searching, preparing CVs and applying for jobs with clients. I tend to go into the office in the morning, check my emails and different job sites, and put them into my various client files. I then email links to work opportunities to my clients. I generally meet clients in the afternoon. Initially we meet in the quiet, secure environment of the office and then when they get more confident we meet in the community.

Another part of my work involves training people on work and health matters for the Recovery College in Brighton and Hove. I’m also a Client Involvement Champion at Southdown. I’m very passionate about that. 

I love working on my own and having the autonomy to set my own pace, providing I can get the balance right with my outcomes and my engagement with employers and partners. It’s a really unusual thing to have this freedom to expand and develop the service.

Southdown has provided Supported Employment services for 20 years, with the IPS model being delivered for 10 years. However, this service is very new, and there’s a real drive and passion for it to succeed. It’s been a really enjoyable experience for me.

When I joined Southdown, I quickly learned that all staff are genuinely committed to supporting clients with a real passion, and this extends to the very top. The Chief Executive and Deputy Chief Executive both visited one of my training courses which I had never seen before. It makes a huge difference when you know they have real understanding. 

I have the feeling that nothing is impossible here. If it’s realistic, you will get supported to make it happen.

As part of the DWP’s Supported Employment ‘proof of concept’ (pilot project), Southdown along with Brighton and Hove City Council are providing specialist employment support for people with a learning disability, autism or mental health conditions. The proof of concept is running for 18 months from November 2017 to May 2019, in which one of our Employment Specialists is working closely with the SPFT teams and the DWP Jobcentres to provide support for people with mental health challenges.