From unemployment to a new career in healthcare

I was once unemployed, with little belief I could offer anything to society. I now work as a senior occupational therapist specialising in mental health. I also provide peer support training for employers, NHS organisations and charities. Here’s my story in three parts.

Part 1

In the year 2000, I was living in a 1 bedroom flat in the north of Bradford, an ex-industrial City in the north of England. The flat was small with little furniture, the bed was two pallets and a borrowed mattress. There were no pictures on the wall and not much food in the fridge. I was in debt, and money would run out days before my fortnightly benefits payment. I had a university degree, but I had little contact with friends and family, no job, and no belief that I could accomplish more than cycling to the market once a fortnight. The flat was on a road nicknamed “death row”, due to violence in the area.

I found out about a 12 week personal development course run by the charity “Princes Trust”, so named as Prince Charles is the patron. I hoped it would be a chance to build confidence and get closer to employment. The course was at a community Centre on the other side of the city, I went along to sign up. The woman who greeted me was bright and enthusiastic. She asked about my work experience and my degree. After 15 minutes she suggested I should volunteer to be one of the course leaders.

When I left I thought “She’s mad if she thinks I can do that, what a terrible judge of character, they must be desperate if they want me to take part.”

By the end of the 12 weeks, I had played a part in a course for young people who lived on a deprived estate in Bradford. Some of the young people had not cooked a meal or been outside the city boundary. We planned and cooked communal meals, painted a local children’s center, climbed a snowy mountain, and celebrated at a graduation ceremony.

With some evidence that I had something to offer and a good reference, I got a job as a support worker for people with acquired brain injury. My career in health care had begun.