Our Stories

Darren Spooner

Bill: Darren looked after his partner for many years and when she died he had to cope both with bereavement and with trying to find a job after being away from the job market for so long.

Darren: When I left school I did a Youth Training Scheme and worked on the roads, doing maintenance for a few years.  But then my girlfriend became ill and I had to give up work to look after her.  She was using a wheelchair most of the time and I would be getting her up and helping her.  I was only 24 years old and that situation continued for the next 29 years.  

After my partner died I went to the Job Centre and they sent me here, to the Employability Trust for their 12 week work experience course.  I didn’t know what to expect but I found I really enjoyed it.  We were doing table edging, cupboards, putting table tops on bases – it was all very varied.  And I got to know people.  We even fixed all the furniture for the new places in Spanish City at Whitley Bay.  We are all going up there soon to visit and celebrate the finish of that project.

Before, when I was on my own, I’d get up, walk the dog and then watch telly all afternoon.   If I wasn’t going to the Job Centre I didn’t go out at all.  I didn’t even want to go shopping in the day time. Now I’m up at 6.30 am every morning, looking forward to coming to work.  I meet up with another Employability Trust guy and we walk to where Ray picks us up and takes us to the factory, then back in the evening.  Now the dog will be watching for me coming home.  My two sons are really pleased for me.  They are doing well – both managers, one in a bookmaker’s and one in a restaurant.  They used to help me out but now they don’t need to, though we still talk every day. 

Working here is a real joy, talking to everyone and all getting along.  We have a good laugh and carry-on each day.

David Birt

David Birt
David Birt – My Story

David: I left school at 16, I really wasn’t interested in school.  But I wanted to work in anything that was available in Peterlee – retail, warehousing, anything.  I went to the Job Centre, but I had no experience and nobody would take me on.   So this went on for a few years.  Then, when I was 18, I suddenly started to get a bad rash on my chest and it spread all over my body and my face.  The doctor gave me all sorts – pills and creams and everything – but it made no difference and it was bad for three years.  I couldn’t do anything, couldn’t move off the sofa without it hurting.  I was in a bad place mentally.  I didn’t want to go out of the house, even to go to the Job Centre.  Then my employment adviser told me about the Employability Trust.  Well, I didn’t want to go but I said I would, just to get them off my back.  The interview was the next day and I was nervous.  I was speaking really quietly, hardly spoke at all when Dickie showed me round the factory.  This was at the Seaham warehouse so there were only four people working there at the time.  The first day I started though, I found I enjoyed it.  It was actually nice to get out of the house and have some interaction with people.  I spent that first day washing down tables and Dickie was talking to me, asking me about myself.  And it felt ok. 

I was getting on fine for the first few days, then I had a bit of a setback.  They moved me into the main factory with a lot more people.  After that I got flu and my skin flared up again and I didn’t want to go back.  It was my girlfriend who encouraged me to try again and here at the Employability Trust they arranged for me to go back to work at Seaham for a while, where there were fewer people.  I was able to start again more slowly, getting to know everyone, and I began to walk home with some of the other lads who lived in the same direction as me and that felt fine.

For me, the next step was going back to Peterlee to work in the main factory and it was daunting at first, having lots of people around.  But everyone was so nice that I started to feel more comfortable.  This was early in 2017 and I was coming to the end of my work experience.  I said to my girlfriend how I’d like to stay longer.  I stayed on to get my forklift truck licence and asked if I could go on there as a volunteer.  Bill said having the licence was all very well but no use without the experience.  To get experience I needed to put my hood down – I’d got into a habit of keeping it up all the time.  My eczema was getting a lot better and anyway, I knew people there wouldn’t be bothered or say anything about it.  So taking my hood down didn’t seem like a problem any more.

After that I was asked to go and work on a contract at BHK, a manufacturing company in Peterlee, and by that point I felt fine about it.  Bill and Dickie even took me into town to get the shoes I needed. 

There was a time back in 2016/2017 when I just couldn’t see myself making it out of that year.  So things have changed for me, I’ve come such a long way, I’m so much more confident and I feel really proud of myself.  But I couldn’t have managed it without people here and I’ve made so many friends.  I’ve been all over the UK doing work for the Trust – London, Plymouth, Wales.  And I think from being so quiet the first time I came here I’m now the loudest.  I never expected people would be so nice or that life could get better and better for me.

Alan Rose

Bill:  Alan runs our account for Hillcross Furniture and keeps all the logistics running smoothly for this important customer.

Alan: I’d worked since I left school, never been out of work until I was laid off in 2008.  I’d worked in manufacturing and I did get another job then but was laid off again.  After that I was out of work for two or three years.  I’d be down at the Job Centre, looking for a job – they got you to use computers and look on line.   Then they suggested I come along to the Employability Trust so that was the first time here for me.  I came for four or five weeks to the Trust then they asked me to go to do some work for them at AMA Clothing.  After I’d been there a week they took me on at their factory, doing warehousing, cutting fabric by machine – it was very varied and I got on well there for a couple of years.  So it was disappointing when they went into liquidation.  But that time I knew what to do – I came straight over to see Bill Marley to ask him for a job.  All I wanted to do was work, and Bill agreed to take me for the standard 12 week work experience course and ended up taking me on himself.

What I do here is mainly work for Hillcross Furniture.  That’s warehousing, building the bases for furniture, making up chairs, putting the table bases and tops together.  And I do a lot of logistics, getting the vans loaded and sent off.  It’s varied and never monotonous because there’s something different to do every day.

I’ve been able to learn new computer based skills – doing spreadsheets and that sort of thing, and I’m able to do the learning my own way, picking it up as I go along.  Someone can show me and show me how to do something, but until I can get on and try it for myself I’ll never learn it. 

For me, The Employability Trust has worked both times when I’ve really needed a job they’ve found me a job and two out of two, that’s not a bad record.

Andrew Slater

Bill:  Andrew is a big lad, and a great worker.  But he didn’t have a lot of confidence when he first came to the Employability Trust.

Andrew: When I left school they sent me to Springboard in Hetton for help with literacy and numeracy because I had dyslexia and I used to write letters and numbers the wrong way round.  But most of all, I didn’t have much confidence.  So when I left there at 18 I ended up on the dole.  My Mum and Dad both have health problems so I was caring for them as well, and I found myself just sitting at home, not wanting to go out.

Then I started here at the Employability Trust and everything changed.  I met new people that I get on with – I’d only ever had one or two friends in my life before.  The work is good too and we do all sorts.  It will come in and seem easy to begin with, then more jobs come in during the day and we get really busy.  But it makes the time go quicker and everybody gets on together and has a good laugh.

In the very first week I got to know one of the other guys here.  Then I met his daughter and we’ve been going out together now for six months.  I’ve got more money to spend and we get out to all kinds of things now – the cinema and that, and go out for meals every weekend when I get paid!     I’ve even got a little stepdaughter to help look after now and we’re planning to look for a house together after Christmas.  So it’s all been a hell of a big change for me and it’s thanks to everyone here.  Bill Boss as we call him – is a good bloke and so is Ray.  They make this a good place to work.  My mum and dad are over the moon, seeing me so much more confident in myself and they’re really happy for us.

Sandra Long

Bill: Sandy is one of our older workers.  She’d been focusing on caring for her family for quite a few years, but she was keen to get back into full time work.

Sandy: I’ve had a lot of jobs in the past – I’ve worked in factories and in retail. In 1972 I was working in a tailoring factory, making those safari suits for men that were so fashionable, if you remember them?  Then I was made redundant twice in the same year.  But I always found another job to go to.  My last full time employment was in 1984 in a factory.  Then, during my marriage, I worked as a part time cleaner but when, after 23 years, my husband and I got divorced, I needed to find full time work again. 

The Job Centre has what they call Over 40s Returneeships, and they were offering placements in charity shops or in manufacturing.  I actually have qualifications in retail already and I’ve worked in lots of places, but it’s all a long time ago and they want you to have recent experience.  All the shops seem to be closing down anyway.   But anything seemed better than watching the telly all day, so I said I would come here to the Trust on one of these Returneeships and see what it was like, though I’d no idea what to expect.  The work is fine – we do all sorts, putting kits together, sticking on barcode labels, rolling edge tape on, and using a machine.  We do a production line and have a bit of a laugh together.  It’s great to have someone to talk to other than the cat and my 19 year old daughter who is on the computer all the time anyway.  Being here is a lot better than the dole and the experience should help me to get another job.  I prefer to keep myself busy and I’d try any job that comes up – even nightshift.  I’m a bit of a night owl so that wouldn’t bother me at all.  The only downside is that I can’t drive because of health problems so that rules out quite a few warehousing jobs.

I’m 60 years old but coming here has definitely given me a new lease of life.  It’s certainly better than just sitting watching Jeremy Kyle!

Chris Hall

Bill: Chris was keen to work, and now he has the confidence to apply his talents and take up new opportunities.

Chris: School wasn’t great for me and I didn’t manage to get any decent qualifications beyond Design and Technology.  I was ok at practical things though not so good at the rest of it.  But I went on to college to do a three year qualification in tree surgery.  Looking back that seems a bit of a random choice – they gave you a list and I didn’t really know what to go for.  Anyway, I left with the qualification but not the required ticket, and although I didn’t want to go on the dole my dad said I needed to get my insurance stamp.  I ended up being out of work for three years.  Then they sent me on a work programme and my adviser suggested I should come to the Employability Trust for their 12 week work experience programme.  Well, I would have snapped their hand off to get some work experience. 

I was a bit anxious, not knowing what to expect.  When I started the first couple of weeks was classroom based, doing customer service training, but after that it was much more hands-on which suited me much better.  Then we were on the shop floor four days a week and in the classroom one day.  I remember my first job on the shop floor was removing labels from ginger beer bottles.  It was messy but it didn’t put me off though. After that I was making up kitchen installation kits, putting all the pieces together, packaging and labelling them.  I was there for another 7 to 8 weeks doing that kind of work and I loved every minute.  The people you work with are the best part of it and it’s so good to get proper, hands-on experience.  That’s much more than I ever had from the Job Centre.

For me, the important things were really learning about what it’s like to be at work – getting to work on time, managing my own time during the day, getting used to following instructions, and all on a real job.  At the end of the initial 12 weeks I was able to stay for another 8 weeks to do my fork lift licence and supervisor training. 

My second to last week, on the Friday, the boss took me aside to say there was an opening at Cummins Engineering where they make engines for Rolls Royce.  Would I be interested?  I wasn’t sure.  He told me to think about it over the weekend and talk to my parents.  So I did, but at that point I didn’t feel it was the right thing.  So I explained on the Monday.  I said, thank you for the opportunity but I’d really like to stay here.  You’ve given me so much experience and confidence already, I’d like to continue and pay that back.  They were fine with that.

I started on an 8 hour contract, still signing on at that point, but then another opportunity came up, to go to work for Hillcross Furniture in Darlington and learn something new, upholstering furniture for them.  I drove the van down to their factory with another supervisor – my first time driving on the A1!  And we learnt to upholster Boston side chairs.  After that I was taken on full time and I’ve never looked back.

This job has provided me with opportunities to do so many different things.  In July 2017 we were repairing furniture for the DFDS cross channel ferry.  We got on the ferry at Dover and worked all night for two weeks, crossing back and forth and sleeping during the day.  Mother Nature was kind to us that time and there were no strong swells, so no seasickness, though I think I’d got my sea legs anyway by the end.

Bill even asked me to go up to Glasgow with him to an awards ceremony.  We might not have won that award but staying at a five star hotel and going to the ceremony at Glasgow City Chambers more than made up for that. It was fantastic.

Looking back, I’m really glad I stayed on here because it has changed my life and given me a lot of confidence.  Now I’m also working four days a month at British Steel as a lubricating technician, working on the machines when they shut down the mill every month.  I’m enjoying that too – it’s messy but it’s great, and really practical, which I know now is what I enjoy.

Patricia O’Neill

Bill: When Patricia first joined us we didn’t have many women working here but that is changing.

Patricia: I love being here.  I was a bit nervous when I first came because I thought I’d be the only girl and I felt a bit uncomfortable about it.  But everyone was really friendly and then another girl came and we have two others now.

I’d been out of work for two years and I’d done factory work before but never really liked it.  I thought I’d prefer to get into warehousing and when I asked at the Job Centre they said I could come here for work experience.  When that finished I asked if I could come back because I loved it so much.

I’d never really had many friends before, and people in the factories where I worked weren’t friendly.  If you made a mistake – like I did once on the production line and the jam rolypolys all went onto the floor – you’d get shouted out.  Here people are really lovely and if you need help they’ll help you.  I’ve learnt loads of things I never knew about before.  I did even have a try at the forklift truck driving but I wasn’t so good at the reversing.  Still, I might have another go at it.

The great thing about this place is that people smile at you and nobody is ever nasty so you can have a good laugh with them.  We are even friends on Facebook now – I’ve never had so many friends.

Carl Swindle

Bill: Carl came to us the first time three years ago and has now come back.  He has already gained a lot of skills and he doesn’t like to be idle.

Carl: When I left school I worked on a youth training scheme, doing jobs for Easington Council.  I’ve got a lot of skills in joinery, plastering and so on.  When I was 18 I even went to work in Germany for a year, but I had children back here and I was missing out on seeing them grow up so I came back and did factory work for places like Plumb Centre and forklift driving for Northern Freight.  At that time you could get laid off but get another job two days later.  Then, after a while, it was all agency work.   Even that started to dry up. But when I’ve not been in work I’ve always made sure I take the opportunity to do courses, get more qualifications and experience.  So I’ve done warehousing and storage certificates and I’ve done the employability training in interview techniques and cv writing. 

Three years ago, when I didn’t have a job, the Job Centre sent me along to the Employability Trust for their 8 week course.  It went well and I asked Bill if I could stay on when it finished and volunteer.  There was a pleasant atmosphere and I enjoyed it.  After three months volunteering a job came up at the doughnut factory.  Then more recently I was laid off again.  So when I was at the Job Centre I asked about courses and they said Bill is running 12 week courses now, on a 3 day week.  Well, the previous time had been great and had been a great help so I started back here. 

One of the advantages is that Bill gets to know about jobs coming up – that’s why I jumped at the chance to start right away.  I love being back.  Each morning we get told what jobs are coming in.  As I’ve been here before I have a good idea of how things work, where everything is stored in the warehouse and so on, so I can help any new starters.  I’d certainly prefer to be doing that rather than sitting at home driving my girlfriend mad, looking around for something to do.  I always like to keep busy – decorating the house, growing my own vegetables; I even keep my own hens.

This is a good place to work and Bill is a good boss. They leave you to get on with things rather than being on your back the whole time.  I like that.  If there is no job on offer after 12 weeks I will volunteer again.  It looks good on your cv if you’re prepared to work for nothings – people think, well if you’ll do that, what will you do if you’re actually being paid!  I always aim to better myself and my skills whatever I’m doing. The more qualifications and experience you can build up, the better chance you have of getting a job.