Greater Manchester Housing Providers help more than 2,000 residents into work each year. For many this can be a life changing opportunity. Here just two examples how have been helped by GMHP member Bolton at Home. Take look at Demi’s and Bernadette’s stories:
Demi’s story: “now I look forward to work”
After suffering a breakdown, 25-year-old Demi McDougall had to give up her job as a care assistant. For almost a year, Demi struggled to make ends meet as she brought up her seven-year-old daughter on her own. But with support, Demi managed to get her life back on track and land a job as a landscaping assistant.
“If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be doing a job like this, I wouldn’t have believed you,” says Demi. “Back then, life wasn’t easy. I was juggling a demanding job with being a single mum, and I was suffering with anxiety and depression. When my relationship with my parents broke down, I hit a brick wall. I had to give up my job and money became a constant worry. Some days I felt so low, I struggled to leave the house.
“It was only when I plucked up the courage to go to my local UCAN centre that things started to change. I explained my situation to staff and they immediately wanted to help. With support from Bolton at Home, I was able to sort out my finances and get help for my anxiety and depression.”
Keen to get back to work, Demi was then signposted to a work experience opportunity with Glendale (Bolton at Home’s landscaping contractor).
“It was an eight-week voluntary job as an estate ranger,” says Demi. “It meant working outdoors and doing physical work. I really liked the sound of it, so I applied and got the job. I worked two days a week, tidying gardens. I felt nervous at first but the team were really friendly and put me at ease.”
From that experience, Demi felt confident enough to apply for an apprenticeship with Glendale. She was successful and was offered a part-time job which combines an admin role with landscaping, as well being able to study for an NVQ 2 in horticulture.
“I’m now 10 months into a two-year apprenticeship and I love my job. I get lots of support from Glendale; it’s like a big family. They know I’m a single mum so they’re flexible when it comes to school holidays.”
Perhaps the biggest change for Demi has been the improvement in her mental health, as she explains: “Working outdoors, with a supportive team around me has really boosted my confidence and general wellbeing. I’m not as self conscious as I was and my communication skills are better. It’s good for my daughter, River, too. She’s interested in what I’m doing and I enjoy telling her what I’ve learned. I also have a regular wage coming in now, which gives me more stability.
“Now, I look forward to going to work. I’d love to work my way up to a managerial position. But whatever happens next, I’ve no doubt that the skills I’m learning – from IT to horticulture – will help my career in the future.”
Glendale has been providing work experience and apprenticeships to Bolton at Home customers for the last few years. The company is keen to support the local community and give opportunities to people who’ve found it difficult getting into work. Alan Stevens is a contract manager at Glendale. He says: “So far, we’ve provided 12 work placements and three apprenticeships to Bolton at Home customers. Each person has been able to work in an environment that focuses more on their personal development rather than their output. Our teams benefit too; they become mentors and get a lot of satisfaction from sharing their knowledge.
Bernadette’s story: “Getting a smile from someone I’ve helped makes my day”
For 34-year-old Bernadette Kelly, helping her neighbours on the Johnson Fold estate in Bolton was always second nature. So when an opportunity came up to do it as a full-time job, she jumped at the chance.
“I heard that Bolton at Home were looking for customers to work as ‘peer navigators’, to give support and advice to other local residents,” says Bernadette. “I was encouraged by the local community development officer to apply for the job, but I wasn’t sure at first.
“Then there was an open day about it at my local UCAN centre, and my sister encouraged me to go along. After finding out more, I began to think that this job would be perfect for me. I said I was interested, was called to interview, and got the job.”
Bernadette, who has two children – Elliot (10) and Ava (4), is one of three peer navigators working in and around Johnson Fold. Sara Fearns and Shelley Butler make up the rest of the team. Together, they give invaluable support to the local community.
The initiative – which has been recognised in a number of awards – was launched in March last year. Since then, the peer navigators have helped 152 people with issues such as money problems, finding work, addiction, loneliness and family breakdown.
Strong relationships with local partners such as Bolton Community Mental Health Team and Age Concern are crucial to the project’s success. Bernadette gives support to people in their own home, at the Johnson Fold UCAN Centre or at the Storehouse Pantry where she works every Thursday.
A familiar face “Who better to give advice than those who’ve had the same problems and come out the other end?” says Bernadette. “I think the reason why the peer navigators have been successful is because people feel comfortable talking to us. We’re that familiar face; we’ve all been through difficult times and we’ve learned how to cope.
“I was a single parent and I know how hard it can be bringing up a family on your own. I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety. I’ve felt the horrible pressure of being in debt. But with the training I’ve had and, by working with other local partners, I can help people get on the right path to sorting out their problems.”
In the last year, the team has held 12 community events on topics like drug awareness. They’ve also set up new residents’ groups, including a healthy living group, a women’s wellbeing group with crèche facilities, and a ‘men in sheds’ project aimed at tackling social isolation.
Bernadette goes on to say how the job of helping other people has also helped her too. “I had to give up my last job because I couldn’t afford the childcare costs. I felt that I’d lost my sense of purpose and my confidence hit rock bottom.
“Now, through this new work experience, my life is very different. Getting a smile from someone I’ve helped makes my day – my confidence is through the roof now. Even my family have benefitted. My children are happier. My mum, who has depression and anxiety, goes to the women’s group every week and has started volunteering. It’s been a positive journey for everyone.”
The peer navigator project has been set up by Bolton at Home in partnership with Bolton Council, the Placed Based Integration Team and Bolton Community and Voluntary Services.