George graduated from the NEXT Project and went on to do his Level 3 Accredited Practitioner Training (APT) with us. In 2017, after 25 years out of paid employment, he was offered a job working in a hostel for adults with complex needs. The journey was far from easy; it’s taken persistence, patience and dedication to maintaining his own mental health despite difficulties and knock-backs. Here he explains why continuity of support for people during the long, hard graft of turning their lives around is one of the most important but overlooked stages of recovery.
You allowed a lot of time to continue your learning and development after completing the NEXT Project, what did this involve?
I completed NEXT in 2014, which led me onto pursuing my professional Level 3 qualification (APT) for a couple more years. Then I spent another year, almost, working in a voluntary placement. During that time Liz and Bob gave me an opportunity to come back and do some training with the new APT group, which was a really great experience. I got some lovely feedback and it gave me a real confidence boost. It was good to have the opportunity to give something back, and receive affirmation from others that I could do it [training].
How did you start gaining experience in the substance misuse field?
I volunteered for 7 months at Westminster Drug & Alcohol Project (WDP) where I was based in their computer suite. I thought it would be good experience for me as well working with clients. I really enjoyed it there and was hoping it might lead to a paid position but these are rare to come by. When the contract to deliver the service changed hands, I found it a bit dis-heartening as there was more of a focus on efficiency, monitoring and a corporate way of working – much less personal time with clients. That can be the reality of the work in the drug and alcohol field – a lot of administrative systems to update, manage, stay on top of. I’ve got quite comfortable with that stuff now as I have had more practice – you do something a little bit every day and it becomes less difficult, but you have to show up and keep doing it.
What obstacles did you come across, trying to find paid employment?
It’s not too hard to find jobs once you know where to look and what for. There are plenty of recruitment agencies and job sites. It’s not that there isn’t any work out there, it’s just that you’ve got to be willing to do fairly low paid, entry level work. Apart from that, there are a lot of administrative hurdles at the beginning, registering and signing up for different sites and alerts and I struggled with the IT side of things. It can be very overwhelming.
As soon as I finally got my CV together with help from a few people and got registered with some agencies, I couldn’t believe how quickly things came up. Before I knew it I had an interview and was offered the job! It happened so quickly. I suppose I knew I had what it took – the passion, the lived and practical experience working in the field, running training sessions, etc. but it is so difficult to know how to get that across on paper. And I was willing to do the entry level work. If I had been left on my own I would have stopped at those first few hurdles. I didn’t know how to navigate all that administration – IT, registering my details, uploading documents, etc and it was easy to get lost in my own negativity.
How did you manage to overcome some of these hurdles?
Having ongoing support and encouragement after I’d finished my training was crucial. It’s all very well doing courses and getting qualified but it’s the leg work afterwards that’s a challenge. Foundation for Change was always a place I could come to for support, motivation and help for the hard work of getting on with life. All that stuff we go through in treatment – the pain and personal stuff we deal with, then all the training and coursework and putting so much into it…It was easy to feel really depressed and confused about where to go next at times, especially because those next steps are taken slowly but surely. Sometimes it felt like I wasn’t able to do anything with my experience and the work I put in. Foundation for Change gave me reason and encouragement to get up in the morning and do something about it.
What has been the most challenging thing about your role as support worker?
At the beginning I had a role doing a combination of early and late shift work. It kept me really busy and on the go working either 8am – 4pm or 1pm – 9pm. It’s adequately paid but not so much that you would do it for the money! I was in a position to be able to afford to live that way for a short time, but for many it is difficult in London and a lot of people move on quite quickly in this career due to burn out and low pay. I suppose in some ways that’s good because it means there are always jobs out there that need doing in mental health, if you are a willing and enthusiastic person. I really enjoyed working as part of a team, which is one of the up-sides of working shifts at a residential. After a few months I was offered the chance of a new role working in the community. It’s more regular hours, but with a larger caseload of individuals who need support at home. It’s still ‘front-line’ but comes with more responsibility – definitely for managing and coordinating my own work.
If you were giving advice to someone moving on in their recovery or trying to start a career, what would you suggest?
You have to keep showing up. You have to be diligent, which is tiring and tough sometimes. But you can’t do things the way you used to do things – it gets you nowhere. If you enjoy the work you do and put out good energy, that’s what you get back. If you are willing and passionate, it gets appreciated and people will love working with you. I hope reading this will provide hope and inspiration. It would have done for me – we all need it sometimes!