Prior to my referral to the employment service, I had been unemployed for 15 years. However, in March 2019, I managed to secure a full-time position as a production operative. Unfortunately, this employment came to end due to mutual agreement despite several attempts with my employer supporting me to undertake different job roles with the company.  I was unable to sustain my employment due to being extremely anxious and unable to carry out tasks due to physically shaking and experiencing panic attacks. I wanted to work but knew that my anxiety was a barrier, and I knew I needed in work support to overcome this and achieve my work goals.

When I started working with my Employment Specialist, Melanie Hannar, she not only helped me prepare to look for work by creating a CV and looking for employment, but she also explored my previous workplace environments and experiences. I knew I wanted to work in a retail environment, but I was very aware that my past role had a negative impact on my mental health and confidence. Melanie explored my current benefits and a better off in work calculation. From this, I discovered that I could work on a part time basis and that Melanie would support me in work to address my anxiety barriers as well as build my confidence so I could look to work full time in the future.

I knew I needed a work environment where my employer would understand the challenges I faced with my mental health. I agreed to disclose my mental health following a discussion with Mel and she was able to approach employers on my behalf to find work. It took some time for me to secure a job, and this was also delayed due to the Covid-19 lockdown in March 2020. However, Mel encouraged me not to give up and we kept job searching together. Mel continued to approach employers on my behalf to find work.

Mel encouraged me not to give up and we kept job searching together.

Mel had managed to build a partnership with Heron Foods Ltd and was approached by the Manager, Alan who was looking to recruit an in-store cleaner and asked if she had any suitable candidates. Mel approached me to ask if I would be interested in applying for the role and following agreement from myself, sent my CV to Alan. Within days Alan contacted me directly to arrange an interview at Heron Foods, which was an ideal work environment for me, being close to where I live and would also give me the skills and knowledge to start a retail career as well as build my confidence. I accepted immediately.

I met with the store manager Alan Quantrill and Mel was also able to attend with me. The meeting was very informal and not the usual interview conditions I had previously experienced. This allowed me to relax and be myself and I felt comfortable talking. Alan offered me a job as a cleaner on the spot and I started work after a couple of days of the interview. I was over the moon that I had managed to secure a job but was also apprehensive due to my previous employment experience.

I started working in October 2020 when the UK was in lockdown due to the pandemic. The lockdown also presented me with my challenges as I was experiencing a family bereavement at the time I started working and was unable to visit my family members due to their vulnerability to COVID-19. I started to feel very anxious at work and that I could not do the job. I felt like quitting but was also scared of failing. I got to the point where I could not go to work, nor did I contact my manager Alan to let him know I was not attending. Alan was concerned when I did not attend for work and contacted Mel to let her know. 

Mel visited me at home. Initially, I did not want to discuss my problems, but Mel was understanding of my situation and reassured me that she would support me whatever outcome I decided. I let Mel know that I was struggling at work due to my family bereavement and that my anxiety had worsened, and this had a negative impact on my mental health.

I did not want to lose my job and I did not want to fail as I had before.

Mel contacted Alan with my consent to explain my situation. Alan allowed me to take some time off work despite me only being there a couple of weeks. Mel also arranged an appointment with my ANP to explore other treatments for my mental health. I also discussed a plan with Mel to support me on a one-to-one basis in work and she arranged to visit me on a weekly basis to help me address my anxieties. 

During this time, there were several management restructures and Mel supported me to address my concerns around changes to my job role, pay and holidays and arranged meetings with my managers to address my concerns. As well as supporting me in work Mel also provided social support during the lockdown and we would meet outside for walks and take out coffee when government guidelines permitted, and I was able to talk to her not only about work but also my circumstances.

Melanie has not only helped me to find a job, but she also supported me with benefit calculations, completing permitted work forms, sorting out documents required for work and preparing me for the interview. She has also liaised with the clinical team to write a supporting letter for a bus pass, so I am able to travel to work. 

Since I have been working, Mel continues to visit me at work on a weekly basis to make sure I am ok as well as empower me to address any concerns I have with my manager. I am now more settled in work and my anxiety has lowered considerably.

I have also learnt new skills within the store such as working on the tills, merchandising and stock rotation. I hope to move onto a retail assistant position in the future. I feel a lot more confident in myself and working has given me a sense of purpose. I also feel very lucky to have obtained a job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hear from Stephen’s employer and employment specialist:

I have found the IPS Employment Service to be really helpful and supportive not only towards its clients but also to me as a regular manager and my existing staff. We have a good partnership and Melanie calls to see me regularly to ensure all is going well and I would not hesitate to consider applicants she put forward for my store roles as she will ensure I have the right staff for the job.

Since I have employed Stephen, he has been very reliable, hardworking, and trustworthy. He has done very well within the organisation, and I can see him developing into a store assistant position.

Alan Quatrill – Store Manager, Heron Foods Ltd

Melanie Hannar – Stephen’s Employment Specialist

Stephen started work in October 2020 and since then I have maintained a good working relationship with management and regularly visit the store to ensure both Stephen and the manager are supported. I have also provided wellbeing literature and support contact detail for the rest of the employees throughout the pandemic to support their own mental health and wellbeing. I regularly meet with Stephen and if there are any additional mental health support needs, I will discuss this in a huddle with the CMHT as well as his ANP.

I am so proud of Stephen’s achievements and determination to succeed, despite his own personal challenges and feel Stephen is on the right path to developing his career pathway in the retail sector. Stephen is an excellent role model to others with mental health conditions who may be thinking of returning to work. He has also taken part in our external fidelity review and has kindly agreed to be a part of this story to encourage other employers to be more open to supporting people with mental health conditions to work in their organisation.