Introducing Debbie from Ingatestone

Debbie had been out of work since June 2019 and despite looking online and applying for jobs she felt quite lost. In September 2019 Debbie heard about HeadsUp and signed up as she felt the support could help build her confidence and it might be beneficial to have her CV reviewed as she ‘wasn’t sure what companies were after’.  She hadn’t worked in an office for over 17 years, but this is where Debbie saw herself, however her low confidence meant that she had little faith that she might be able to achieve it.

Because Debbie was going through a divorce she was desperate to get in to work, she wanted to prove that she could look after herself as she ‘wanted to stand on my own two feet’. She explained that she ‘went into survival mode to look after herself and children’ and she wanted to make her kids feel proud of her. Debbie wasn’t worried about signing up with HeadsUp as she felt she needed direction and at the point felt ‘lost’.

HeadsUp gave Debbie the direction that she needed and with support from both her Peer Support Worker (PSW) and a Development and Skills Officer (DSO) she developed her job seeking skills and subsequently her confidence grew. Her DSO supported her in editing her CV to create two high quality CVs and learn how to use information from them to support different applications. She completed other Skill Pods including online applications and Interview techniques and the latter she found particularly helpful as it had been a long time since she had attended a job interview. This gave her a newfound confidence and Debbie felt prepared for the interviews she was starting to get, leaving her feeling very grateful for this support.

Debbie felt that she was staying on track and reflected that ‘having this support has been my crutch and I really appreciated having this, you cleared my head and held my hand as we’ve gone through’. She has had a lot on her plate and having continued support from a PSW and DSO has helped Debbie to stay focused, as she admits that ‘I may have given up for a while if not for your support’. Having HeadsUp support during this difficult time in Debbie’s life has allowed her to stay on track and move forward. Something she values even more due to lockdown which has resulted in her not talking to people regularly.

Debbie particularly values completing her CV with a DSO and having support with online applications as she now feels more confident with being able to promote her own skillset without feeling over the top. Her confidence has grown with completing online applications and now has the confidence to apply for many different jobs as she now understands how her skills are transferrable to many roles. The whole experience has had a positive impact on her resilience as she now knows that if she doesn’t hear back from a job it’s okay.

Debbie feels like ‘there is light at the end of the tunnel’, she’s started being offered interviews and getting shortlisted, coming close in the application process which is such an achievement. Debbie has now been offered a role which she has accepted and will be starting a job as an Accounts Administrative Assistant, which is brilliant! Debbie reflects that ‘HeadsUp helped keep me focused and moving forward, I would definitely recommend them – nothing to lose and only to gain.’

Mel from Southend

Mel was working full time when she got made redundant in May 2020 due to the Covid Pandemic. She started to claim Universal Credit which was completely new to her and her Job Centre Work Coach suggested that HeadsUp might offer her extra support. Mel had been trying to get back to work with no luck and said, ‘what was stopping me was me’. She didn’t want to jump straight into a new job but to take some time to choose one that suited her and fit around her family requirements. Mel started to notice that her mental health and wellbeing were suffering but was thankful she had time to consider her next career step.

Mel reflected that she felt okay when she was first made redundant as she was kept busy with home schooling, doing home improvements, and had redundancy money to keep her going. However, she started to have up and down days and found the 3rd Lockdown particularly difficult. She thought HeadsUp might help her to see what direction to go in and help develop her confidence, Mel stated ‘I thought I’d just go for it’. She had no concerns when enrolling as she was looking forward to ‘Just getting more support, especially with interviews which I haven’t done in so long, I thought I was confident until I started to go through it all’.

During her time with HeadsUp Mel has been able to achieve most of the things she set out to do, most importantly developing her employability skills and growing in confidence. She still feels nervous about interviews, but this is because she will be having her first interview in 4 years, and she’s reassured that it’s completely normal to be nervous. Motivation levels still fluctuate but now the kids are back at school she feels focused and prepared for her upcoming interview.

Mel had previously avoided talking about her mental health but within the safe environment that HeadsUp provides she was able to open-up to her Peer Support Worker. It also gave her a chance to think and discuss what she wanted and didn’t want to do when it came to jobs.  She reflects ‘I’ve been able to consider my mental health and discuss it without feeling stupid, weak and useless’.

Her Peer Support Worker (PSW) made Mel feel like she was their top priority as they referred to her as their ‘Top person’! They built-up her confidence by reassuring Mel that she is ‘intelligent’ and ‘determined’, giving her the boost to realise she can do it. Mel was also supported by one of HeadsUp’s Development and Skills Officers (DSO) and found the specific work around Online Applications very helpful. Having someone to push and prompt on which areas to elaborate helped Mel to clearly describe her skillset whilst giving examples of their impact in the workplace. She found going through Interview preparation with her DSO, in particular learning the STAR technique very beneficial, as well as completing a mock interview which has helped her interview preparation. The process of being supported by a PSW and DSO led Mel to feeling much more confident about herself and have faith in her abilities.

This boost in confidence was noticed by Mel’s dad who had a keen eye for changes within her, she was animated in telling her family about the interview she had coming up. She is now applying for jobs she really wants, taking the time to choose what works for her. She took time to re-assess her priorities, putting her wellbeing and family at the top of her list, knowing that she wants a better work life balance. She is preparing for her first interview in 4 years and coming so far within the job application process has made her feel excited and hopeful.

Mel would definitely recommend HeadsUp, saying ‘Firstly, you’ve got nothing to lose and secondly, the DSO stuff really helped with the practical side of things as well as having support from a PSW to think about what you want to achieve and how you’re feeling, at least give it a go.’

Our participant ‘feels like who she’s meant to be’

Our participant was with the HeadsUp programme for several months during 2020/21. At the time she enrolled she was at a particularly difficult period in her life experiencing depression and with no friends or family around her, she was desperate for support.

Having previously worked and lived in her own flat in London, she had moved to a new town 3 years beforehand to join her partner. Her plan had been to find a job and meet new people establishing a new life but unfortunately things didn’t work out like that. In 2020 she was very depressed, out of work and in a relationship that had become extremely unhealthy. She felt alone and had no hope. This situation resulted in her attempting to take her own life.

She felt that her Dad and Nan must have been watching over her that night as she survived, and she feels that they were trying to make her see that it wasn’t her time. She says that she took that moment as her ‘wakeup call’, that she had to take a breath and do something to get out of the situation she had found herself in.

Having called 111 and been put in touch with a Mental Health Crisis team, she spoke to the people there about how she needed to remove herself from her current situation, find work and earn money to support that move. They told her about HeadsUp, and she quickly got in touch.

She first met with someone from the project in a local Costa Coffee, it was just for a chat about what the project could offer in the first instance. She was hoping to get help focusing on the steps she needed to make changes in her life, and knew that she needed someone to listen to her and talk her through the steps she needed to take to be able to work and become independent again. She felt that she would be more comfortable talking about everything that she had gone through with a stranger.

She immediately got on with the person she met, who subsequently became her Peer Support Worker (PSW). Having someone to talk to, who listened with no judgment was a turning point for her. The fact that she genuinely got on with her PSW was an added bonus, but she really felt like she was on her side and understood some of the stuff she had experienced. They met (or post Covid talked on the phone) and talked about what she wanted to achieve and what she needed to do to get there, and made a ‘plan of action’ which is exactly what she wanted!

Along with emotional and listening support her PSW also helped with practical job seeking tasks such as reviewing her CV, physically helping her to job search and talking through the pros and cons of opportunities that arose. She tried out in a couple of roles that unfortunately didn’t work out but with her PSW’s help she didn’t let this get her down and kept looking forwards.

At the same time as job searching our participant was looking at options of where to live as she knew she needed to leave what had become an unhealthy relationship with her partner, she wanted to put herself first. This was something that she needed to work through herself, but she valued her PSW’s encouragement to take time to think about her options and what made her happy.

Even with so much going on she has still made really good progress with her desire to get back to work. She has a great CV and knows how to use it, so is always job searching and looking into her options. She now has the confidence to do this independently having had several months of support from her PSW. She has moved to East London where she is determined to find a job and a flat and most importantly be happy, but she’s realistic that this will still be a step at a time. She says she feels “100% better, more me, more alive” and even her family have said to her that she sounds so much happier.

There is no doubt that our participant has completely turned her life around, from the very dark place she was in on joining the project to now, where she is taking charge of her life and what happens next, it’s such a fantastic achievement.

She’s thinking about perhaps doing a college course to upskill and give herself the potential to earn more, she considering the benefits of volunteering to get more hands on experience – essentially she is considering all options as she now feels able to look forwards. She said,

“I should be myself, be me. I feel like a confident woman, I’m not shy and I don’t want to worry about things that I can’t do anything about”

She reflects on the support from her PSW with great positivity both for the practical job seeking advice and the emotional and listening support. She felt that whilst her PSW listened and gave advice just as important was the sense that she was someone who was ‘on her side’ and didn’t judge her. In our participants words

“anyone who has [my PSW] is in very good hands”

“if it wasn’t for [my PSW] I wouldn’t be where I am now”

About the project as a whole she says,

“Everyone she has spoken to in HeadsUp has supported her and made her feel like who she’s meant to be”

Creating a Positive Structure

Many of us live our lives day to day without thinking “are we doing all we can to look after our mental health?”

It’s easy to get into a negative way of thinking when we have no routine or structure to our day, and some also seem to take a view that structure makes us boring or inflexible. But structure in our lives can help us both mentally and physically by making sure that we take time to eat correctly, exercise and  sleep well along with giving our day a focus or even a series of ‘mini goals’.

The approach of much of our HeadsUp activity reflects our understanding that when unemployed, we can lose all sense of routine and structure to our daily lives, and the impact that this can have on someone. We work with our participants to help them explore different approaches to routine, to find out what works for them and helps them to feel more positive about going forward into each new day.

We can help participants add structure to their day by building a daily plan and creating a ‘To Do list’ which may contain necessary daily tasks such as housework as well as cooking meals, job searching, phoning or meeting a friend and going for a walk.

Our Peer Support Workers who work directly with our participants have found that people planning their week with a positive routine helps them become more confident in their lives – so it’s definitely worth giving it a try!

Wellbeing as Lockdown Lifts

As we approach the time when it looks like lockdown will at last start to lift, a lot of people are feeling anxious about life returning to ‘normal’ and indeed what this even looks like now. Many people they have been isolated for much of the year, not had face to face conversations and have had to change their usual routines. Taking care of your mental wellbeing has been a big part of lockdown but what we may not all appreciate quite as much, is just how important continuing this practice will be in easing anxieties as things start to relax.

Some tips on how we can look ourselves include;

• Take things at your own pace, just because someone else is ready to return to their pre lockdown life doesn’t mean you have to be
• Challenge yourself to try something new every day or every couple of days
• Share how you’re feeling with someone you trust, they may be struggling just as much as you
• Try to pin point what is it your anxious about and plan ahead for this, for example if public transport is a concern try to go at a quieter time or find an alternative plan
• Your physical health and mental health are linked, having a small walk, staying hydrated or finding a new activity such as painting, reading or singing can help take your mind off things

Most importantly check in with yourself, are you feeling stressed? Happy? Angry? Sometimes you may not even be aware of mental stress until it is overwhelming. Take account of your own emotions so you can catch this early on and try and talk to people whenever you can about how you feel as this really is a time for us to all look out for each other!

The grieving process of job loss

The past year has seen employment across the UK (and everywhere) impacted on so many different levels, and of course as an employment support project we fully expected to see this impact reflected in the needs of people who approached HeadsUp. Our Peer Support Workers (PSW) hear the stories of those who need our help, and recently, many of our new referrals were in (pre COVID) what they considered long term, committed job roles and had been working at their company for many years. Now finding themselves unemployed they understandably felt a sense of loss and confusion, several having originally been furloughed but then finding themselves being made redundant

Working with our PSW’s participants are offered space and time to reflect and allow almost a grieving process before they are able to realistically look to their future.

We then offer opportunity to talk about expectations of the interview process, as for many it has been some time since they went through application processes or attended an interview. Of course lockdown also causes a new and different way of interviewing that is new to most and can cause a real sense of anxiety about the whole process.

There are so many ways that PSW’s can help participants who find themselves in this situations, but the headline is really always around self confidence, making sure that people take time to think through everything that they have to offer, transferable skills along with the practical work experience. Motivation is also often something to work on especially when things are feeling pretty tough out there.

Getting back out there – it’s not as simple as it sounds but we are here to help make that happen!

Sharing a (digital) smile!

I think for many people the lockdown at the beginning of 2021 felt exceptionally tough: yet another lockdown, but this time in the cold and the dark of winter. Coping habits that had formed over the past months didn’t feel quite so relevant, and the lack of social interaction continued to take its toll on wellbeing. I realised how often I smile at people, but that of course no one can see a smile through a mask!

At HeadsUp we had launched a short, online version of our fantastic wellbeing workshops back in December. There is an obvious risk in doing this digitally, in that many people believe they don’t have access to devices which they can use; but in many cases a smartphone can work well. We devoted time to supporting those who had expressed an interest to set up and test “Teams”, the platform we use. Suddenly people who had been physically isolated were seeing other people and being able to share a mask-free smile with others- even if it was digitally.

The online workshops have continued to grow, attracting a range of participants who are able to interact with our trainers and each other. For many people this has been a huge boost, being able to spend time with others in a safe, digital environment. More of our day-to-day support work is now being done via Teams, Zoom and Face Time as participants (and HeadsUp staff!) enjoy the benefits of seeing smiling faces rather than just using the telephone.

Many of us prefer seeing people in the real world, and at HeadsUp we very much look forward to a time when we can return to face-to-face meetings and workshops. That said, we continue to expand our “digital” offer, embracing the positive impact this can have on people’s wellbeing at the same time as improving their IT skills. While we can’t wait to share mask-free smiles with you all, in the meantime we will continue to do it digitally.