Jenny explained that she started using heroin and street drugs when young, becoming homeless as a result. There were no services available to help her. In January 2006 she was interviewed by a researcher from a government project, who referred her to a drop in centre. Jenny attended the centre and eventually started volunteering there. As a result she received some training (e.g. awareness of drug and alcohol abuse) and improved her Maths and English. She also started doing
some courses with Tyneside Cyrenians.
She became interested in getting a job and in February 2008 became a Support Worker for their GAP project. The team leader of this project was impressed with Jenny and her desire to work and
managed to secure funding from Northern Rock to be able to engage her as a Support Worker. It was a small, three person team and Jenny worked part time 16 hours per week.
The GAP project works with women over 18 years old who have been sexually exploited. Jenny has a case load of 12 clients. She found it hard work at first and it was especially hard to gain the trust of the clients: “But when they realise you are not going to walk away, they open up”. She felt that they definitely tell her more about themselves and their problems when they know she was a service user herself. She is always open about this with clients as she feels it gives them motivation and provides a positive role model. She feels that confidentiality has not been an issue and that her clients aren’t bothered about this. She is good friends with some, but they don’t ask her for confidential information and she would never give it if they did. She has never found being both a service user and employee to be a problem. She was on methadone when she started with Tyneside Cyrenians, but has been in detox now for more than a year.
At first, Jenny found the pressures of the job were hard to cope with. Although this was entirely internally driven, she thought she had to do everything perfectly. Her appraisal at the end of her first
year of employment was very positive and she now feels much more relaxed. She is very positive about the impact of having service user employees: “For service users....it gives them a great
motivation when they see an ex-service user in a job....they want to do the same thing.”