Bekah interviews Mark Hawthorne
Bekah is currently working with Gloucester City Homes on the Kickstart scheme, and indicated a keen interest in politics. We could think of no-one better to attend Shire Hall and interview the Leader of Gloucestershire County Council, Mark Hawthorne MBE. Here's the full video of Bekah's meeting with Mark, and Forwards would like to thank both for taking time to create this video, which was used in the Gloucestershire Work and Wellbeing event, broadcast on Weds 22 September via Chaos TV and SEETEC.
After the interview Bekah said how much she enjoyed the experience, and it has given her confidence for the future. The Kickstart scheme is designed to give young people a real experience of work and increase their skills and confidence; you'll see how it's working for Bekah in the video:
Abie meets Pete Bungard
Our newest team member Abie Buffin wasted no time going to the top and met with Pete Bungard, Chief Executive at Gloucestershire County Council, to create a video talking about his work at Forwards.
Abie is the Step Forwards broker in our team and spoke with Pete about his role. The video was created for the Gloucestershire Work and Wellbeing Event broadcast by Chaos TV and SEETEC on 22nd September, online and on their Facebook page.
Abie, we wish you every success in your new role, and we thank Pete Bungard for taking the time to help us discuss and share our work.
Lettie Leads the Way
After a successful interview, Lettie shares the story of her success in gaining paid employment in our first ever video success story.
Congratulations Lettie, your hard work paid off!
Charlie's in the Garden
Charlie’s journey with Forwards is a perfect illustration of how someone gets what they really want through patience and willingness.
Located in South Eastern Gloucestershire, not far from the border with Wiltshire and Oxfordshire Charlie was keen and able with outdoor work and a particular interest in gardening. A regular volunteer at The Bathurst Estate, assisting the grounds team, he was seeking paid employment similar to his voluntary work, and realised how competitive this kind of work is to get.
He always showed up for his meetings and completed the tasks he was set, and when we could not find the right kind of job to apply for, he was prepared to try other potential work, even though he knew it wasn’t what he really wanted. A couple of examples of this saw him applying to Tesco and a Coffee distributor, both without success, but this didn’t dampen his enthusiasm. We even considered a role as a parking attendant, or retail security and because we were able to discuss the merits of this kind of work, we decided it wouldn’t be the right path for him.
We supported Charlie to develop his CV, and when the right opportunity came along he was ready to apply with a tailored covering letter. He was given an opportunity to show his skills on a full-day work trial and after successfully demonstrating his abilities he was offered the job and has started to work across several sites in a team where he feels welcome and is really enjoying his new role.
We hope his story inspires others to their success, and thank Charlie for his efforts, which have now paid off!
A Clean Slate for Susan
Susan came to GEM as she had been the sole carer for her mother for the past ten years and was currently supporting her grandchild who has autism. Susan had a wealth of skills and experience, travelling, previously owned her on business and a wealth of volunteering experience with CAB.
At this point of time Susan had no self confidence, anxiety to IT and was confused about where she was to go in the employment field.
We started looking at what skills and the experience Sharon has had over the last ten years, we then started to link the transferable skills to the areas of work that would best suit Susan. We agreed to explore customer facing positions where Susan could utilize her skills. We explored library roles and completed application. Susan then identified Clean Slate as they were advertising support worker roles. Susan was successful with her application and was offered an interview. We spent some time going through ZOOM and interview practice.
Susan felt the interview went very well and explained that if did not get offered the role, it was a very progressive experience. Clean Slate felt it was also a positive interview and offered Susan a role. It was a very quick turn over and due to Susan being so adaptable, has taken to her new training and is currently being shadowed with calls to clients.
“Although this experience has been a massive change to my every day life and very challenging in some aspects, particularly around using IT, the support from Michaela and help I have received has made this one of the most enjoyable, positive experiences I have encountered. I would not have gained employment if it wasn’t for Michaela’s support.”
Platform to Launch - Diane's story
We have recently had an individual join our service by the name of Diane. Diane is a friendly and warm individual who has a wealth of experience that any employer would greatly benefit from. Stepping back into a career after a long break, due to illness, can be daunting for all sorts of reasons. It can be hard to know where to start and what to say to employers about your career break. Diane has not worked for 7 years and has been referred to our service to help her get back into work. She has fought many battles and overcome lots of changes during that time but is ready to give it a go. She understands this will not be a quick process and we are making sure she is completely ready in mind, body and spirit. Together we shall work on her development through the likes of mock interviews and what to tell employers about her work gap.
When Diane joined Forwards her year had just finished with the Listening Post who used to ring her every week and provide company in the form of a regular chat. Diane was understandably disappointed at this ending as it was part of her routine and she enjoyed the interaction and engagement. To help fill this gap, we have enrolled Diane in to a pen pal program. This pen pal will be 18 to 21 years of age with the idea of swapping stories and getting to know a different generation. Diane is very excited about this project and already has a pen pal of her own who she has been in touch with since 1974 and has met on a few occasions.
Diane has encountered recent setbacks with her personal computer being hacked but has demonstrated a can do attitude by engaging with a charity group who tired to remotely fix her laptop for her. When these attempts failed, Diane moved on to consulting computer specialists and will get the computer to them when possible. We are now working on Diane’s CV and looking at future volunteering placements to help enhance it. Through volunteering Diane will socialise, make new connections in existing and new networks (which she has greatly missed during the pandemic) and learn new skills.
Haydn has been through a tough journey. He was home educated and therefore has no formal qualifications. His ambition is to study Mathematics at University, therefore, to help him achieve this he approached South Gloucester and Stroud College to study A Level Maths and Physics. He was interviewed by the college, sat two exams and was accepted onto the courses. Unfortunately, Haydn suffered with severe mental health problems and had to withdraw from the courses and leave college. He started to see a therapist to help him with his problems and as his treatment was coming to an end, he contacted the GEM Project to help him rebuild his confidence so he could return to college. Working very closely with Michaela Elliott, his GEM Navigator Developer, they started to take small steps to help Haydn achieve his ambition. He started to get in touch with some colleagues, took part in a GEM Participants’ Council meeting and even devised green impact resources for participants.
However, when lockdown started Haydn’s mental health deteriorated once again, and with the help and support from Michaela, Haydn was offered CBT. When the first lockdown was coming to an end Haydn accepted that going to college this year was not possible, so he and Michaela switched their efforts to getting Haydn into employment. Haydn found this very difficult but with the support and encouragement of Michaela he worked really hard and overcame one of his biggest fears and attended GEM online employment sessions via Zoom to give him the skills and knowledge to write his CV and start job searching. Haydn bravely attended a mock interview with GEM via Zoom as well as face to face with Michaela and his family as he found interviews extremely daunting.
Haydn had two interviews and to his shock and amazement was offered employment, he was also offered another interview after he had already accepted the first job offer.
He has now been employed as a customer assistant at a supermarket , for one month and is starting to really enjoy it.
Not all Heroes wear Capes
Our customer Steven (not his real name) is a hero and an inspiration.
Growing up in a rural and economically deprived area and having to deal with dyslexia meant that Steven’s work opportunities were severely limited, so he moved in with a grandparent living in Gloucestershire to expand his horizons and increase his chances. Although his family are located in various distant places around the UK he was determined to make his own way in life and work.
Inspired by the stories of a family doctor and the actor Susan Hampshire, who were both diagnosed as dyslexic, Steven didn’t see his condition as an obstacle to employment, instead choosing to be inspired by his chosen role models.
After working in construction where a serious accident halted his work temporarily, Steven used the time not only for his physical recovery, but also to volunteer with a Young Homeless Project because being out of paid work encouraged him to invest his time helping others.
After various jobs through agency work he accepted a full-time contract in the public building cleaning sector, and works unsociable hours on a demanding shift pattern. This is both physically and mentally demanding, and when split shift working patterns see him finish late one day, only to start again early the next, Steven is inspired to improve his situation.
But his current circumstances are not designing his future.
In the current lockdown through Covid-19 he has continued to work the demanding shifts, and when one of his colleagues who works alongside him was really struggling and ready to quit Steven’s positive attitude and practical stoicism led him to guide Derek to think carefully about what he was planning to do. Having experienced serious setbacks himself, Steven coached his colleague to carry on, reminding him that although resigning would eliminate the current position and frustration, it would also create another issue Derek would then have to overcome. That day, Steven was Derek’s hero, saving him from an inevitable situation he would have had to deal with if he stepped down: finding alternative work from an unemployed position of his own making.
Even though his own work situation sees Steven currently unable to achieve his personal ambitions of more meaningful work, improved pay, and a move into his own home from shared accommodation, added to him currently being unable to enjoy an active social life because his hours see him working when his friends are free… Still, Steven carries on.
He has also advised the same to his colleague Derek by sharing his patient approach, and that’s another aspect of true heroes: they don’t always whoosh into a scene and fix things in a minute.
Since meeting with Forwards, who will support him in his quest for an improved life accessed through a better job, Steven has consistently demonstrated the qualities needed to succeed, his quiet determination and steady progress is a credit to him. Together we will succeed and the team is really looking forward to the time when we will be able to share the end of this story, which for Steven will be the beginning of a new chapter in his life.
Life in Lockdown: Mending the Cracks
Here's a story that's beautifully and truthfully written by 'Lily' to relate her experiences in lockdown.
Right now, we all need that message.There’s a Japanese art called ‘kintsugi’, or ‘mending with gold.’ Rather than throwing away broken pottery, or hiding the cracks, artists repair them using lacquer mixed with gold. After all, we can’t turn back time. Broken pottery can never ‘return to normal.’ But instead of treating the change as shameful, they highlight the unique beauty of each crack. The disaster gives birth to a one-of-a-kind masterpiece. Kintsugi shows how objects - and people - grow more beautiful from having once broken.
The lockdown has been tough, but I’m no stranger to sudden change. I’ve seen how lives can shatter overnight, whether from loved ones suffering life-changing injuries or from coming out as trans and becoming a second-class citizen. Through it all, I pride myself in my ability to grow and adapt. Becoming a young carer taught me compassion and resilience. Coming out as trans helped me become an activist, giving me the motivation and first-hand experience to change lives. And the lockdown, as horrible as it’s been, has felt the same. It’s given me time and space to heal - to mend all my cracks, both old and new.
The lockdown shattered my old life. I’m mending it with gold.
When the lockdown began, I was terrified of stagnating at home. I’d already spent three years living with my parents, watching my university friends build new lives while I sunk deeper into caregiving. My house felt like a prison cell, rancid with the stench of rotting dreams. I was ashamed. So I volunteered and applied for jobs, desperate to feel like I was progressing. Distracting myself from how stagnant life had become. Because if I couldn’t make progress, I was afraid the shame would consume me. To me, lockdown wasn’t just months of isolation - it meant being forced back into stagnation. At first, I didn’t think I could handle it.
As weeks passed, the cracks began to show. I made lists of ambitious goals - sleep more, write more, exercise more - anything that felt like progress. I clung to my old coping strategies, hoping that ‘seizing this opportunity’ for self-improvement would quench my cabin fever and shame. But as my family members grew more stressed, each missing normality in our own way, our arguments grew worse and worse. Caregiving became harder and harder. I couldn’t save myself or my family from this suffering, let alone both at once. As my compassion fatigue grew and my new routines began falling apart, I felt myself slipping back into stagnation. The more I cracked, the worse my shame became. Eventually, I shattered.
After one family argument too many, I realised I couldn’t repress my shame any more. So I opened the floodgates and let myself feel . All my stress, all my shame and a thousand other traumas that I’d bottled away until now. I spent hours sobbing in the nearby woods. For three nights in a row, I woke up at 2am in a cold sweat. My worst nightmare was about leaving on a deep-space voyage, naively proud of my bravery, only to realise - as I crossed the point of no return - that I’d thrown away everything I’d ever known and loved. That’s how it felt to lower my guard. It seemed almost suicidal - throwing away my coping strategies and diving into the abyss, knowing I could never un-feel the emotions I’d set loose.That was my low point. After that, life got better.
At long last, I stopped hiding from my shame and focused on self-care. I let myself experience my thoughts and feelings without distractions, knowing that I had all the time in the world to soothe myself. I sat outside and appreciated life - the birdsong, the rustling trees and the sun on my face. I tilted back my head to watch the clouds, then realised that I hadn’t looked up once since graduating. I’d been too busy looking ahead. As I finally let myself process my feelings, I felt lighter and more cleansed than ever before.
The next time a family argument erupted, I didn’t bury the pain. Instead, I went for a woodland walk with an open heart - and had the most Zen experience of my life. Each time a feeling bubbled up, I invited it to walk alongside me as a companion rather than overwhelm me. I wandered down a familiar forest path, looking at each tree individually - some had fascinating shapes I’d never noticed before. And as I watched each tree bending in the wind, I imagined how that breeze must have crossed the whole forest, touching every tree and every house in the area at once. I felt connected in a surreal way that I’d never experienced before. Once I lowered my defences and let myself be vulnerable, I discovered something beautiful. That’s when I began mending with gold.
Since then, the lockdown hasn’t felt so bad. Rather than longing for life to be different - wishing that the pottery of my life would un-shatter - I’ve embraced everything that the lockdown has to offer.
My friendships with my university friends are flourishing - when nobody can travel anyway, distance is no longer an obstacle. I spend sunny afternoons playing badminton with my family - rather than struggling to carry their burdens, I share joy with them instead. And best of all, I have time to simply exist , unshackled from deadlines and self-imposed schedules. I’ve reframed isolation - my old prison cell has become my monastery.
And so, in the middle of a global pandemic, I’ve never felt more at peace than I do now. The lockdown shattered my unhealthy coping strategies. It’s been the perfect storm for personal growth - too much stress to hold inside, plus all the time in the world to heal. My lifestyle before the pandemic was never ideal, but since my distractions and goal-chasing worked ‘well enough’ back then, I didn’t stop to consider a better option. Once I accepted that my old approach simply could not work , I could start fresh and fix the underlying problems that caused me to shatter. I stopped running away from my shame and learned to trust myself - I could handle my emotions. And while the pandemic will end eventually, the resilience and inner peace I’ve developed will last a lifetime.
I’ve become more beautiful for having once broken.
This isn’t the first time my life has shattered, and it certainly won’t be the last. Life is predictably unpredictable like that - disaster can strike when you least expect it. But each time we shatter, we have an opportunity to start fresh. Disasters force us to confront problems we should have faced long ago - and then we heal. We become stronger, kinder and more beautiful than before. And we learn to adapt, which is such a valuable skill. We learn to trust ourselves to handle change. So while the lockdown has been horrible, I’m grateful for this opportunity. I’ve found purpose and meaning in this experience - not from the suffering itself, but from the ways that I adapt. That’s what kintsugi means to me.
For now, the lockdown is our new normal - that won’t change for months. It’s painful and horrifying to accept, but we can’t turn back time. We can’t ‘return to normal.’ All we can do is adapt. But rather than being ashamed of the changes, or blaming ourselves for struggling, we all have an opportunity to create something beautiful. We can heal . Not by hiding the cracks in our lives - by starting fresh and celebrating our unique ways of mending. Rather than longing for the past, let’s move forward and embrace something new.
The lockdown shattered our old lives. Let’s mend them with gold.