Hooked on alcohol from the age of 14, and tormented by drug addictions, long-term unemployment and poor health that led him to twice attempt suicide, Andrew faced almost insurmountable challenges to put his life back on track.
However, at the age of 50, Andrew has emerged as one of most remarkable and inspiring people that we have encountered as an organisation.
Defying the odds, the grandfather of six from Prestwick, Scotland, has launched his own gardening business – a giant step which he says was only made possible through the advice and encouragement he received from the New Enterprise Allowance, delivered by us across South Ayrshire.
“People tell me all the time about the difference they’ve seen in me since I set up the business,” said Andrew. As he looked forward to taking on his first employee, Andrew revealed that he is now sober and clear of his addictions – and has even found love with a new partner.
“The NEA scheme is the best thing I’ve ever done,” he said, “When I went to PeoplePlus and told my business advisor Peter Louden about the idea I had, he turned to me and said: ‘I have a good feeling about this.’ He was so helpful. He doesn’t think he helped much, but he did everything. He never once put up barriers or said I couldn’t do it.”
Just how far Andrew has come can be viewed through his situation last May, when he was referred to the New Enterprise Allowance scheme by Jobcentre Plus and first met Peter.
By then, Andrew had been unemployed for three years, having lost his job in a call centre when an attempt to kick a codeine addiction left him so crippled with anxiety he couldn’t walk to his desk. His marriage had long since broken down and later he’d tried to take his own life.
Although he started working with an addiction support worker, he was advised that the barriers he faced were too great for him ever to be able to work again.
“I was put on Employment and Support Allowance, and left completely alone, and I could easily have stayed like that for the rest of my life,” recalled Andrew, “At one point, I couldn’t even come out of my room, I was that paranoid.”
However, the first glimmer of hope came when his local cricket club offered him a voluntary position to clean up the grounds, and he discovered he had a skill for landscaping. Encouraged by his family, he started to wonder whether he could set up a small gardening business, specialising in restoring grass in sandy-soil areas.
“I wasn’t very confident about it,” said Andrew, “But then my family arranged for me to go to Las Vegas for a week for my 50th as a treat. I didn’t drink and had such a great time that I thought about all those things that had stopped me doing things in the past, and decided that I was going to have to give it a go.”
The New Enterprise Allowance offers support and guidance to budding entrepreneurs as they develop their business plan and through the first six months of trading. It is available to claimants of Jobseekers Allowance and Employment and Support Allowance (or their partners) and lone parents or sick on Income Support.
In July last year, Andrew took the plunge and launched Gibson Grass Care.
Beaming with pride, he said: “I haven’t really stopped since then. I have about 20 regulars, including two quite large jobs, and the feedback I’m getting makes me really proud. It’s been beyond my wildest dreams.”
Advisor Peter, who works for PeoplePlus delivery partner Verg Scotland, is also delighted by Andrew’s success. He said: “Andrew is the only person in a long time that has brought me to tears. His story is a real human tale and I’m proud the NEA has played a part in that, by giving him the support and advice to help him change his life.
“Andrew had very fragile self-esteem, but what stands out for me is how he has adapted and expanded his experience and skills to set up the business and how quickly he’s gained success. It is a remarkable story.”
The greatest source of pride for Andrew is that his mum has seen him get his life back on track. He added: “Now that I’m sober, I haven’t buckled and haven’t let her down and it’s finally got to the point where she doesn’t have to worry about me anymore. That means as much to me as anything. “