Stacking shelves in a discount store might not be everyone’s idea of the perfect job. But for Pauline McCahill, who has spent much of the last 19 years on disability benefits with severe anxiety and depression, every day at work is a day of wonder that she has come so far and can now enjoy the simple pleasures of life again.
“I am loving it,” said Pauline, 37, from Whitehaven, Cumbria. “It might not seem much to most people, but to me it is such an achievement to even be here. I am off benefits and financially independent for the first time in my life.
“It feels amazing, great. If I can do it, anyone can do it with the right support.”
Just two years ago, Pauline cried hysterically when she arrived at our Workington branch to join the Work Programme.
Her anxiety levels went through the roof at the prospect of having to meet new people and work in a group and she was convinced she would never be ready to look for paid employment.
“I didn’t understand why I was there,” she said. “I didn’t think I would ever be well enough to work again so I felt they were putting me through all that trauma for nothing.
“We were put in a group to fill out forms and I burst into floods of tears.
“The staff were really sympathetic. I was taken into a side room, taken through the forms on my own and told I could go home. That made me feel a bit better.”
She then had monthly sessions with advisor Rob Bright, who focused on building her confidence at a pace she was comfortable with.
She said: “We didn’t talk about work at first, just got to know eachother. I realised he wasn’t there to push me into doing anything I didn’t want to do and I began to relax and trust him.”
Pauline’s mental health problems started 13 years ago when she had to fight for her daughter, now 16, to be diagnosed with autism. She suffered a breakdown and had a second breakdown after her divorce five years ago. It left her barely able to leave her home and in tears most of the time.
We sent Pauline on a confidence-building course and encouraged her to take up some of her old hobbies, such as knitting and crochet, to get her active and focused.
She said: “The confidence course was amazing. I was still in tears a lot for the first year. But they were so gentle with me I started to feel different. I don’t know when the switch was flicked off, but I suddenly realised I wasn’t crying any more. I was looking forward to my sessions. My mindset had changed completely.
“Instead of thinking about what I couldn’t do, I was thinking, I CAN look for work, I CAN go to an interview, I CAN get a job.”
After a year, she was invited to start supported job searches.
She said: “My advioers got to know me so well they recognised when I was ready. I needed gentle nudges in the right direction to get me there but they never said I had to do anything, just asked if I wanted to. If I had been pushed into anything when I wasn’t ready I think it would have sent me over the edge, but I always felt they had only my best interests at heart.”
She was surpised when she got invited to her first ever job interview.
She said: “I had nothing much to put on my CV but my advisers helped me show that I had transferable skills from caring for my daughter.
“When I didn’t get the job, it felt like the end of the world. But after my second unseccessful interview, I felt positive another chance would come my way.”
We put her through a specially-designed routeway to prepare her for a specific role at discount superstore B&M which was recruiting through our Work Programe office ready for its opening.
“I was well prepared and when I got the job I was giggling like a schoolgirl. The first thing I did was call Rob and he was chuffed to bits. My first day at work was such a buzz. I loved every minute. Now, as soon as I get to work, I look around the shop and look at my colleagues and I feel happy. I feel useful, active and I have a reason to get up every day.”
Shortly after starting, her manager was so impressed he upped her hours, allowing her to come off benefits.
She said: “I needed benefits to get me through my illness but I didn’t feel happy about it and it felt absolutelty great to get off them. The first thing I did with my paycheck was to do the household shopping, which my partner normally pays for. Buying a takeaway for myself felt like the biggest luxury.
“My life has changed so much I can’t believe it. I am a different person. I have had amazing support around me from friends, family, and my Work Programme team. I couldn’t have done it without them.”
She has returned to our Whitehaven office to encourage new customers on the confidence course who are at the start of their Work Programme journeys. She said: “I hope my story will inspire other people to go for it. I have heard people moaning about being put on the Work Programme but it really is there to help if you’re willing to take it.”
Now in its fifth year of operation, the Work Programme provides tailored support for unemployed customers who need more help to undertake active and effective job-seeking.
We deliver the Work Programme on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Job Centre Plus. The Work Programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF). The ESF in England is investing in jobs and skills – focusing on people who need support the most and helping them fulfill their potential.
Click here to find out more about the support available for jobseekers.