During her four decades in journalism, Janet Shields had lived an exciting life reporting on some of the biggest stories in the North West.

However, struggling to keep up a full time job while caring for her late husband for the last 13 of those years took its toll and she suffered a nervous breakdown.

She had always brimmed with confidence and was used to filing news stories in challenging situations under the pressure of tight deadlines.

Now she found herself frightened of leaving her own home, alarmed when the phone rang and unable to untangle the financial mess left by her husband Ken’s death in 2011, following a long period of illness through which he had been unable to work.

It was only when she was referred to us on the Work Programme, delivered in her home town, Barrow In Furness, that she found the support and practical help she needed to get back on her feet.

After slowly rebuilding her confidence and skills through one-to-one support, group work and training, Janet has now moved back into the newspaper world as Secretary General of the British Association of Journalists. She has moved to East Croydon, south London, is loving the challenge and thrilled to be starting a new chapter in her life at the age of 62.

She said: “With the encouragement of everyone at the Work Programme I put myself up for the role and to my amazement, I was voted in.

“I loved being a journalist. I worked as a freelance for national papers, mainly the Daily Mirror, then on a regional paper and I loved being in the thick of it all. I never thought I would get back to it and I am enjoying it greatly.”

She now oversees a union representing more than 1,000 journalists, most of them from the Mirror Group, helping negotiate redundancies and grievances and leading a mission to modernise the institution.

Yet just under two years ago, Janet was in such a terrible state she considered giving up her Employment and Support Allowance rather than engage with the Work Programme.

She said: “I had become a recluse. I had cared for Ken through kidney cancer, a heart attack, triple heart bypass and throat cancer. I was also going through stress at work and I ended up having a breakdown and having to leave the career I had loved.

“After a while on benefits, which I hated after always earning my own money, I was told I had to join the Work Programme. I was so scared. I thought, let them take my benefits, I don’t care if I end up homeless. I can’t do it.

“I made myself go. Walking in was one of the hardest things I have ever done. But there, waiting for me, was my advisor, Karen Ingram, with a great big welcoming grin.

“She sat me down in a quiet room and we got to know eachother. I realised it wasn’t going to be nearly as scary as I had thought.

“Everyone at my Work Programme office was brilliant. They were sympathetic and realised I needed space at first away from the hustle bustle of the main office. Nothing was too much trouble.”

She was put on a course to build her confidence and then health and safety and first aid courses to prepare her for care roles after her Work Programme team spotted her potential and transferable skills from looking after Ken.

When a care home boss came into the Barrow In Furness office to meet a selected group of Work Programme customers, Janet was offered a job.

Janet said: “At that time I couldn’t have coped with a formal interview so this was perfect. When I was offered the job I felt the old confidence returning.

“I was able to come off benefits. The Work Programme office referred me to the Money Advice Service in their office and they helped me sort out my finances so I could manage my debts.

“I would never have thought of going into caring work but it was a bit like being a journalist. You visit people in their homes, build their trust, listen to them.”

However when the union job came up it was too good an opportunity to refuse.

Janet said: “When I went in to tell my Work Programme team I had the job, they took all the staff into a back room and told them and we had a group hug. I miss going into them because the staff became my friends. But I know I can get in touch any time I need with the ongoing in-work support I get from them. I am fond of them all and grateful.”

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. The Work Programme is part-funded by the European Social Fund in England is investing in jobs and skills – focusing on people who need support the most and helping them fulfill their potential.

We are a leading employment support and training services provider, committed to helping people transform their lives and businesses through employment, training, education and financial advice. We provide a personalised support service to the individuals we work with, helping them find work, progress in their career or set up a new business.