“I’m not used to seeing you on a Friday” Says Ben. He does a double take as I walk in the door. Which is fair enough. I don’t usually work here on Fridays.
I’ve changed my working days at Back on Track this week so I can take part in the weekly ‘Moving On’ session. As the name suggests, it’s one of the more advanced training courses delivered by the education team, and helps people to make the next steps along their journey. That can mean training, volunteering or paid work elsewhere for many of those attending. The group get support with writing CV’s, applying for jobs, or practicing interviews, and Back on Track staff can arrange work placements with local employers. This week the Moving On group are having a presentation from Darren Burns, the National Recruitment Ambassador for Timpson. They have a pretty good record of recruiting people who have struggled with problems in their past, and helping them to turn their lives around. Lots of people have turned up to hear him.
One of those people is Florian, who has been attending the Moving On group for a few weeks now, and seems keen to find out about any possibility of work. We’re waiting in the corridor, chatting before the session when a woman walks in the door and hands him a carrier bag. “Thank you so much!” He says, looking extremely relieved. At first I think that he’s just left something in the communal space outside, but as she leaves he turns to me and says “That’s Amanda from ICM. They’re helping me out with some food while I wait for my Universal Credit claim decision.” I realise it’s a bag of tinned food. ICM is short for Inspiring Change Manchester, a lottery funded project led by Shelter and working with partners to provide support for people who are dealing with multiple and complex issues. Where appropriate, they can give out emergency food parcels to clients who are in dire need, like when they’re not receiving benefits. “That must be a big help.” I say, “I don’t know what I’d do without it.” He replies. I ask him how he found out about ICM. “I was lucky.” Says Florian. “I was going through a bad time, feeling really low. I was talking with a homeless friend in town when I met Lauren from ICM. She invited me to their centre. I went there and they really helped me. They’re still helping me to get back on my feet, and because I want to find a job, they told me about the Moving On Group. So here I am.”
I want to hear more but it’s time to go in for the presentation.
The room is L shaped. I can’t see round the corner but it seems pretty full. There’s easily over 20 people in there. Darren is introduced to everyone, and he stands where he can see everyone and jokes about being nervous, but he doesn’t look it. He speaks really well, and tells the group about the types of jobs available at Timpson, how they recruit, employee benefits and what they look for in potential employees. “We’re all about customer service,” he says, “So personality counts for a lot.” And there’s plenty of those in the room. “What’s the bad news?” shouts one of the group. Which gets a laugh, and a friendly but no nonsense response from Darren “We expect you to work hard.”
Afterwards, people are buzzing with positive energy. I spot Florian, and ask him if he’ll have a drink with me in the Café. “I don’t have any money” he says. “Don’t worry, my treat” I say. He laughs. “Ok, thanks. I’ll have a coffee.” We sit and drink, and talk. He tells me how he arrived in the UK from Albania 14 years ago, and how he worked as a successful trader, on food trucks and at his own market stall, and how a combination of things, starting with ill health in his family 12 months ago, led to him losing his home and business. “I lost everything,” He tells me, “and was sofa surfing and sleeping on the streets for months until I found a place in shared accommodation. I’m still there now. It’s ok, but I want to start working again and get my own place.” “So is the Moving On group helpful?” I ask. “It’s good because it helps me to stay positive,” he replies. “but I can’t get a job at the moment, because I lost my passport. I’m trying to get some money together to pay for a new one, hopefully I’ll get something from universal credit that will help. But I come here and see people getting help and finding jobs so it’s good for me.” We talk about what he’s doing to get his passport and how much it costs. He seems pretty focused, but realistic that it could be weeks before he gets one. “So what happens in the meantime? I ask. “I’ll just keep coming here whenever I can.” He says, “It’s really helped me to be confident about my future. I’m talking to the catering team about getting involved in some enterprise stuff, things that could help me to start my own business again. If not, I know there’s jobs that I can do, and I know I’ll get one. As soon as I have a passport.”