Traumatic experiences in her past had left Christine finding it difficult to trust people. The 60-year-old had been unemployed for 14 months when she was referred to the Ingeus Working Well (Work and Health Programme) team for tailored support to find a job. Commissioned by Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the programme helps long-term unemployed people and those with disabilities and health conditions to gain employment.
Christine, from Oldham, has a deep-seated fear of filling in application forms as her personal information has been leaked in the past. She was in the military in the 1980s, a time when it was illegal for gay people to serve.
After being outed, Christine was arrested and faced intrusive questions about her personal life, which triggered a series of traumatic events. Since then, she has been fearful of her private information falling into the wrong hands.
Christine has a varied work history, most recently as a supervisor on a Covid test site. “After Covid I wanted to step away from everything, I needed to decompress,” says Christine. “However, it becomes unhealthy to stay at home and I got to the point where I no longer wanted to go beyond the safety of the front door.”
Obviously, being reluctant to fill in forms is a major barrier to getting a job.
“Filling in application forms is an absolute nightmare,” she says. “There’s no face at the end of those computer forms. When I joined Ingeus, they took the time to understand that I had issues, and the reasons why. Their patience helped me to get beyond those issues.”
As well as helping with her CV and job goals, Christine’s keyworker referred her to partner organisation the Better Health Generation for additional support. “They gave me coping strategies, such as taking five minutes to accept that what’s creating anxiety for me isn’t as much of a threat as I think it is. It’s cognitive behavioural therapy, focusing on breathing and getting into a more relaxed state,” says Christine.
Having identified that Christine wanted to work outdoors, her keyworker suggested she join the programme’s group volunteering sessions at the Growing Hub at Alexandra Park. Volunteers grow organic produce for the foodbanks around Oldham, while enjoying fresh air and improving their mental health. The Get Oldham
Growing project is led by Oldham Council’s co-ordinator Hannah Williams, with several Growing Hubs around the town. Having enjoyed volunteering some years ago, Christine agreed to get involved, and it proved to be just the tonic she needed. Thanks to her enthusiasm, Christine was offered a part-time temporary job with the Growing Hub. The only barrier was she would have to fill in an application form! After encouragement from Ingeus and Hannah, Christine sent off her application – and became a paid member of the Growing Hub team.
“As a Growing Assistant a lot of the people I am working alongside have mental health issues themselves,” says Christine. “Being able to talk in a safe environment over a trowel and some soil can be quite beneficial for them as well as for me. It’s a little bit of personal interaction within a safe environment.”
Christine is now helping to grow everything from herbs, mint, and gooseberries, to cherries, courgettes, and melons.
“It’s not just an improvement to my mental health, there’s a physical improvement as well because of all the exercise I’m getting.” To improve her health further, Christine goes indoor climbing every week.
She adds: “I absolutely recommend the Working Well programme. It’s good that you maintain a level of contact with Ingeus, so if any issues come up, there’s a safety net.”