Working Well Trust – employment support for those with mental health challenges

Above photo: Individual Placement and Support (IPS) Team

Helen Forster. Chief Executive of Working Well Trust, recently took time to speak to us, telling us what the Working Well Trust does, the challenges its service users face, and the ways in which volunteer support could benefit the organisation. Read on to find out more.

1) What does your charity do?
Working Well Trust (WWT) supports people who have experienced mental health challenges and/or are neurodiverse (such as learning disabilities and Autism) to achieve their employment goals. For those unsure about what they want to do and/or want to take a step-by-step approach so we offer a supported employment approach to help them identify their goals and agree any actions.  The workers work with clients to identify their strengths and skills, look at ways on increasing choices and building confidence.  This can include training opportunities within our social enterprise Access Print and Sew & Support.

Other people want to go straight into work and we use an evidence-based model called Individual Placement and Support (IPS) to work with them to find a job and stay in work.  By working directly with employers, we can find opportunities that meet our clients’ needs.  We work with employers to make sure they and their new employee get the support and advice they need.

We also support people who want to set up their own business through our Business and Enterprise service.  The service supports people who just have a business idea to map out their vision through to people with a clear business plan. We also operate an In Work Support service for people whose employment is at risk, often because of issues linked to their mental health experience.  The service tries to rebuild relationships, agree new ways of working and raises awareness of mental health in the workplace, with the aim of keeping the person in work.  The In Work Service is being funded by the Trust for London to research ways to improve career progression for people with mental health issues, especially those in low-paid work.

2) What are the challenges your service users face, and how does your organisation help users overcome them?
Many of our clients haven’t worked for some time so re-entering the world of work can be a challenging prospect: Clients may not have recent work experience or someone they can contact for a work reference;  they may not have written an application for some time or have an up-to-date CV; standard recruitment procedures may be difficult to handle; they may be concerned that their employer/line manager may not want to recruit them because of their health history; or, they can be worried about whether their mental health will affect their ability to stay in work

Our services are set up to address those concerns by providing one-to-one support so people are informed and prepared to deal with the challenges, for example we talk through the decision about whether to disclose your mental health to a prospective employer or not, we negotiate changes to the recruitment process when needed, we raise awareness of mental health support in the workplace etc. Our aim is to provide the support needed by each individual, which often means working in partnership with other providers, such as Mind and mental health services.

We have also been fortunate to have been supported by ELBA in this work, particularly in arranging interview practice and CV reviewing, working with mentors for our Business and Enterprise clients and even supporting our senior team through the Leadership in Partnership scheme. We have also been given IT equipment that has been loaned to people who were digitally excluded,  unable to complete online training and job searches.

3) Do you have an inspirational story/moment about your work that you would like to share?
An individual (we will call them ‘HS’) contacted us for support with finding paid work that would not impact on her ESA (Employment and Support) benefits. It was apparent to her Employment Specialist that she needed encouragement to find her voice to promote her talents.  HS had done a considerable amount of volunteering and felt she wanted to find paid work, and HS discussed wanting to work for an organisation who supports disadvantaged people in the community. The Employment Specialist put her forward for a reception role for a charity that runs a gym, café and activity centre for women. She was supported with the written application and then with interview preparation. HS secured the role and started at the end of April 2022. The hours will not impact her benefits. HS is particularly excited about the role as it offers the opportunity for her to potentially run her own support groups, which was HS’s longer-term goal.

My Employment Specialist has been easy to communicate with and it has been a wonderful and honest experience. Being able to complete applications and actually being invited for an interview has boosted my self-esteem. I could not have done this previously and would be crippled by overthinking. I have grown in confidence having secured a job offer so quickly. Knowing my Employment Specialist is there every step of the way supporting me with my transition drives me to keep pushing forward. I feel valued, and in feeling valued I can’t wait to explore my ambitions and put myself out there with confidence as a creative contributing member of society opposed to keeping myself small because of my mental health difficulties. WWT has been instrumental in the shift in my mindset towards employment. I look forward to the next chapter of my life.”

4) What kind of support are you in need of right now and how might volunteering fit into that?
As a small charity we don’t have access to some key skills, such as marketing and Equality & Diversity & Inclusion expertise. Support to put some basic templates and systems in place is much needed.

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