Becky didn’t get on with her family and was forced to leave home, in Lancashire, when she was 17. She believes this resulted from the homophobic attitude of a step-parent towards her. She lived in a bedsit for a while, but didn’t like it and moved to London. Centrepoint gave her a bed in their night shelter on Shaftesbury Avenue and helped her get benefits so she could move into a B&B. She managed to pick up occasional work with employment agencies and moved into a flatshare, but the work dried up and she couldn’t afford to stay. At the age of 20 she moved back to Centrepoint followed by an 18-month stay in a women’s hostel in Greek St, Soho. She then found accommodation with Look Ahead in their Dock Street hostel. She was very depressed - as she
described it: “I was not in a good place”.
After two years with Look Ahead, she was resettled in her own flat but felt isolated and was struggling financially – she didn’t have enough money to buy furniture. Poor mental health and lack
of qualifications prevented her from re-integrating back into the community. After experiencing long term unemployment, she was prosecuted for a drugs offence and received a 12 month prison
sentence. On her release, a friend said she knew someone who was setting up a youth project in East London and needed help. Becky started volunteering with them and after about a year they
were able to offer her a paid job. However, the project had trouble getting enough funds and she was made redundant in 2004.
Sometime later, she saw an advert about studying for an NVQ in Health and Social Care with Rugby House (an agency dealing with drug addiction) and joined them on a volunteer work placement,
qualifying with an NVQ after 8 months. This was in September 2008 and she started looking for paid employment. She explains that she hadn’t really heard of Thames Reach before, but in her job search she found their website: she applied to them, along with other agencies. The interview with Thames Reach was her fourth. She feels she was not successful in the earlier interviews because she was very anxious and didn’t know how to relate her abilities to the job requirements. But she learnt from these and was successful in getting a 10-month, fixed term contract as a Project Worker. Luckily, a permanent position came up just as the fixed term contract was coming to an end and she applied for and got this without having to have a break in her employment. She has been working for Thames Reach for 14 months now and has had only one day off sick.
Would she have considered doing the traineeship if she hadn’t got the fixed term contract with Thames Reach? She did in fact consider it, but as she had her NVQ and already had done a lot of
volunteering – and needed the money – she felt it was right to go for a full time job first. But if she hadn’t been able to get a job then she would definitely have pursued the traineeship. How does she
feel about the Thames Reach approach to employing service users? She feels very positive about it, it’s given her a great opportunity, but she feels it’s not for everyone: it depends on their background and they have to be ready for it. Does she have any advice for other agencies that might be considering service user employment? “You need to treat everyone as an individual. Don’t jump to make assumptions about them: many people find themselves homeless as a result of all types of discrimination and this shouldn’t be overlooked or played down.”