Jenn Smith has one word to describe her past – “dismal”.
“I had a lot of mental health issues and a criminal record, I’d been in prison,” she said. “I honestly thought I was unemployable.”
Today, Jenn inspires others with difficult backgrounds to get ready for the jobs market through Groundwork Greater Nottingham’s Towards Work scheme and has aspirations to continue working with others who are experiencing difficulties in their lives.
Now an ambassador on the Towards Work programme led by Groundwork Greater Nottingham, who empower people to lead their best life, enjoy and love their places, and protect our planet, she credits the organisation with completely changing her life around.
“I grew up in a broken home, experienced domestic violence and then had problems with my mental health,” she said. “I’d completely written myself off for the world of work.”
Jenn had enrolled in several back-to-work schemes but nothing had ever come of it until 2016 when she met a former school friend who was a work coach for the programme.
“She had been through the programme and had done well, which gave me hope and encouraged me to apply,” she said.
“At the time I really thought I was unemployable. I had no idea what I wanted to do and I didn’t think I was good at anything. But I signed up for Building Better Opportunities (BBO) and my coach was amazing.
“She was so understanding about my mental health issues and understood that because of those issues I have a tendency to procrastinate,” said Jenn.
“If I missed a call from her, she would text me and say when she’d call again, and kept encouraging me.”
The Building Better Opportunities Towards Work project sees Groundwork Greater Nottingham and its partners work with clients to improve their employment prospects, help them with welfare issues and support them in a journey towards a better life and greater self confidence.
Jenn took part in a stabilisation programme which included working on her mental health and mindfulness sessions, thinking about her feelings, thoughts and actions, and her determination saw her continue on the course even during lockdown when she said it would have been easy to fall by the wayside.
“My BBO coach was so compassionate and understanding. She went through all the things that she said I was good at, which really helped my confidence,” she said. “She showed me what other people see in me, that I’m good at talking to people and I’m a good people person.
“She also showed me that I am smart academically and that because I am so willing, I’d be able to do anything.”
As she worked through the programme, Jenn, from Mansfield, realised she had never given herself a chance before. “I didn’t believe I could do it but BBO gave me that chance,” she said.
Today, Jenn hardly recognises herself. As an ambassador for the programme, she is out networking with people from all backgrounds, encouraging others to give the scheme a try and inspiring them with her own story.
“Some people have actually asked me to be the one who supports them through it, and that feels amazing,” she said. “They have come into the programme because they know I am here.
“It’s like I’m a completely different person now. I am the polar opposite to what I expected me to be. I used to struggle to integrate with the community but now I see myself talking to people of all backgrounds and it completely blows my head!”
Her success has even encouraged friends and family members to take steps to change their lives.
“I never thought this is what I would be doing,” she said. “I still sometimes have bad days and struggle with my mental health but I have that support in place now to remind me how far I have come.
“I’ve just registered to volunteer with Women’s Aid and in the future I would like my own health and wellbeing business to carry on helping people.”
Groundwork Greater Nottingham is running the Towards Work, funded by the National Lottery Community Fund and the European Social Fund, and will be supporting people across the D2N2 area until end March 2023.
Prospective clients are welcome to join the project until the end of December 2022, and Groundwork Greater Nottingham would encourage people to contact them as soon as possible to benefit from the full length of support available from the work coaches.