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Circles, Squares, or Rectangles

I'm from Nigeria, I moved to the country in 2011 as a student. I previously worked in Tesco and Waitrose. Then I made a decision to make a career change. I couldn't find fulfilment in what I was doing. I just sat down one day in church, and I started to ask myself questions like: What do I want to do in my life? What are my talents? That’s how I managed to find myself. I did a bit of research, and realised that I was really passionate about making a difference in people's lives. Looking at the way I support my family, my brothers, my friends as well. I'm a Christian and I devote time to my church. I've volunteered quite often, in the food bank and as a youth worker. I think that that gave me confidence. While studying at uni, I did not really understand the social settings and services in the country. So that volunteering, it was eye-opening. It made me see what people were going through, in poverty, or alienated from social services. These are the things that I looked at, that helped me figure out, deep down in my veins, making a difference in people's lives is something I should do.

I did a bit of research and saw that's in line with what social workers do. I felt really proud and excited to work towards that. One of the steps I took to start that career change was dropping down my hours to have time to volunteer. I did that for about three to four months. Also I had a few colleagues that I was managing at work who told me, ‘I always love it when you’re in. If I have any problems, I can always come to you.’ I held on to that, that's really good feedback. And that gave me the confidence to start applying for jobs. So, I applied for a job with Connection Support, and I was offered a role working with the NRPF group.

When I got the role, I was very happy, and proud of myself for making changes, making that start. Because I was also NRPF, which means no recourse to public funds. So, I have empathy towards people who are in that situation. Shared values were one of the main reasons why I applied for the role. One thing that I've realised on the project is that we all, as project workers and the project manager, have shared values. I have lived experience through the visa route, another colleague had lived experience through the refugee route. We are all passionate about the NRPF client group. We put that passion into the work and we use it to deliver and support the clients.

The first day I started, I knew this was the job for me. The manager was really helpful. I would use the word chilled. That's one thing that I always look for, in my manager, a person that doesn’t really put pressure on you, someone supportive. And that's what I got from her. It was the complete opposite of what I've experienced in the past. There are things I've gone through personally, with my family, since starting this job. I had premature babies, twins. The support I received is something I never would have imagined. Just having a manager that understands, you know, this is a life situation, who doesn’t make you feel bad that you need to be off work. My babies were in the hospital for a very long time, and my manager was very supportive. That really made me feel relaxed, because it's not an easy thing. In other organisations where I’ve worked, even without the babies, maybe just a little sickness here and there, you already get warnings and stuff. But the support here means that I'm not working under pressure. And when you’re not working under pressure, you're able to deliver. Your mind remains focused on that shared value, on that vision.

My job is more or less like a support worker. One of the main things clients are going through is housing and immigration trouble. If you can help them with that, every other problem is quite easy. So we have a client journey with that NRPF group: housing first, then support them with other issues and needs. For example, if the client has physical health or mental health needs, looking for where they can get the right support. I've got clients who want to join a religious activity, supporting them through that. I've had clients who are trying to resolve debt, supporting them through that. Also advocating and liaising for clients on their immigration issues. We’re helping them build living conditions that are suitable after they've been housed.

I try to see clients at least once a week because it's much easier to maintain relationships that way. If I'm unable to see them I will always make a phone call. Most of them, while they're still waiting for an update on their immigration status, they literally have nothing they can do. So, it's all about just checking in. Definitely status affects client experiences. Once they have a visa and the right to work, they might still be an NRPF. But there will be clients on the asylum route, who are just putting in an application to the Home Office to say they're seeking asylum. Not having a right to work, not having a right to benefits, that means they're stuck. And most of them live in that uncertainty. I know the Home Office agrees to respond in about six months or so, but it's never the case. It gets to six months, they don't hear anything, they start to worry. And that's where we as a project come in.

One thing we’ve found recently is that we have clients rough sleeping, which makes everything more difficult. One gentleman has been sleeping rough since February. We saw him last week, and I could tell just from looking at him that his physical health is deteriorating. The plan at the start of the project was to provide 12 properties, and we've got to that max now. So, we need to look outside the box. I made a referral to St Mungo's and I'm hoping they’ll help him. I've had another client who has gone through serious issues with neighbours, harassment and antisocial behaviour, which is really difficult. I’ve tried to support him through the situation very nonjudgmentally. You could easily become judgmental and say, ‘Is it your fault?’ But we've managed to swap houses for him. That’s been very uplifting for me because I can see how I made a difference in someone’s life. That's one of the things that keeps me going. I’ll chat with a client who has a problem, we sit there coming up with ideas of how to resolve it, and you can see the change in their behaviour, even their physical experience, as they can see hope. They start believing there's a way out of this. It lights up my heart, having those experiences.

There's been downs in the work, as well. I've had client issues, where I've been trying to build a relationship and something didn't go right. But I keep positive. I just think, I tried my best to build the relationship. If the client says they don't want me to support them anymore, that's fine. It’s a good thing if they find someone who they can link with to support them, and if I'm not that person, I don't hold any grudges. Emotional support and practical support, they’re kind of the same thing. I remember when I was doing volunteering, one of the things I picked up was the person-centred or client-centred approach. That still resonates. It’s all about the clients. It's not about me.

With the first client that was assigned to me, I remember I was a bit worried how I was going to build that relationship. The first day I was a bit shaky, but I walked in, and we had a good chat. I think one of the ways I was able to manoeuvre that was by not starting with talking about work. I just let him pour everything out. I sat there and gave him listening support – only to find out later that listening support is a top skill! On my drive home, I was very, very happy. Now I use that anytime I’m scared of building a relationship with a client, I just think, ‘We're having a chat.’

I found myself that day I decided to make a change, but I'm still finding myself, it's a process. It goes in circles, or in squares, or in rectangles, it’s a continuous project. And it has been very rewarding. What Connection Support has given me means I don’t even think whether I made the right decision to change careers. I can easily say I made the right decision. I'm not looking back.


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