David Birt

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 as 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.