Jason Tyrrell joined Skillnet in December 2014 as a student in Head Held High, an employment coaching programme run in partnership with Job Centre Plus. Jason had been unemployed for some time and was struggling to find work whilst coping with depression and dealing with family issues. As part of the employment coaching programme, students undertook a period of work experience and The Pulse Café was lucky enough to be able to offer Jason a placement working as front of house and in the kitchen. Jason quickly learnt the ropes and began supporting other volunteers and people on supported work experience.
In September 2015, an opportunity arose for Jason to take on some paid hours supporting people in the café. From there, Jason took on more responsibility and progressed onto a full-time apprenticeship to develop his skills further. Now, in June 2017, Jason has just completed his apprenticeship as a support worker and is working for Skillnet as an employee, supporting people with learning difficulties in arts and woodwork. Jason also continues to play a key role in the development of The Pulse and helps ensure that the venue is tidy, safe and fit for purpose in its new role as an events space and venue.
Skillnet’s Louise (former Manager of The Pulse and Director of Ethics and Communication) talked to Jason about his experience with Skillnet.
Louise - Hi Jason, could you tell us about how you got involved with Head Held High and Skillnet?
Jason - When I left school I was struggling with depression and dealing with family issues. I became a hermit, too scared to leave the front door. Three years ago I started to get back into the community. I began doing voluntary work with Kent Wildlife Trust and Sense. I was receiving Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and preparing to look for a paid job. To start with, the support I was getting wasn’t helping me, then I was offered the chance to go on an employment coaching course which helped me get to the position I am in today.
L– How was the support you received on the employment coaching course different?
J - I had been signing on for ESA for a long time until someone realised that I was stuck in the system. I was referred for the Employment Coaching course with Skillnet where I met Joe who helped me consider that I might be able to get a job. With Joe’s support, my confidence grew and I was able to see the potential for what I could do. Being supported at my own pace helped me overcome my lack of confidence and dyslexia.
The course gave me the opportunity to get work experience in a setting where no-one would judge me for getting something wrong.
L – What was work experience at The Pulse Café like?
J - I joined The Pulse team on a short term supported work experience placement for 9 weeks. I soon realised that the team was supportive of any issues or difficulties I might have. This allowed me to feel I could share my opinions and really engage in the team. As my placement progressed I realised I wanted to continue working at The Pulse when it came to an end. I applied to volunteer; serving customers, making drinks, and helping with the stock taking. I increased my hours and got involved in other projects associated with The Pulse such as the allotment.
L – How did you feel about starting a paid job?
When an opportunity for taking on some paid hours came up, I was offered the position as I has shown I was willing and able to take on more responsibility. I supported other people in the team to run the café. I had lots of ideas for how we could extend and improve what we did and was keen to work with Emily [The Pulse Manager] and other community groups to achieve this.
“I’ve done more in the last month than I thought I would achieve in my entire life” – Jason in September 2015, when he started supporting people in a paid role.
In January 2016, The Pulse closed its café to focus on running as an events space and community venue. Your role changed from working in the Café, to taking on a full-time apprenticeship to train as a supporter.
L – What have you been working on during your apprenticeship?
J – I have been mainly working with Eco Shed, supporting people in the group and working on a few big commissions including making and installing instruments for the Orchards Centre in Milton and making school fence posts from Chestnut wood coppiced from the school grounds.
I also arranged a commission with a fellow artist, Fraser from Foxes Den, at Swale Arts Forum. The commission was to carve 15 mahogany spoons. I have been teaching people in Eco Shed to carve mahogany pendants – this takes a lot of practice as understanding the grain of the wood is important.
In addition to working with Eco Shed, I have been supporting other groups including the Schools Project and Media Group. I have continued to be involved in maintaining The Pulse and have been happy to help out and improve/fix things where necessary.
Jason installing an upcycled, living mural for Eco Vertical project.
L – How has the transition from being supported to supporting others been?
J – I use my own experience of coping with anxiety to support other people.
When I started in Eco Shed, it took a while for a couple of people to open up. I use humour and tell personal anecdotes to break the ice and help people to see me as an equal. I have a few unusual hobbies which help me to connect with some people we support and has created possibilities for creative projects.
"Jason has been so funny - he has a good sense of humour and he's nice to work with. He's got patience when he helps which is fantastic, and he makes you laugh when you're down. He's supported me with my woodwork, particularly helping with measuring the wood. I'm pretty good at painting things myself so he just supports me with the things I'm not so good at. It feels weird now Jason isn't around all the time - it's quieter now" – Rosemary
I have taken the time to get to know people as individuals am happy to bring my own personality to work. I have developed the balance and skill of being approachable and friendly with people but also maintaining responsibility for safeguarding and health and safety – my approach to this fits with Skillnet’s ethos of working alongside people as equals.
L – What have you learnt during your apprenticeship?
J – I have really enjoyed trying to figure out how to support people to achieve their creative visions. As I said, being supported to grow in confidence has been huge for me. The best thing I’ve ever done is agreeing to the apprenticeship. Being offered the apprenticeship in supporting was scary and exciting – scary to be working towards supporting a group on my own and having that responsibility. Before making a decision on accepting the apprenticeship, I asked colleagues and family for their thoughts. It was a great opportunity to practice new ways of dealing with people and also see myself in a new light – allowing me to express myself in the best way that’s me and get feedback from people that that’s accepted.
I took a hedge laying course through Milton Creek Trust. I encouraged Gerard (one of the Eco Shed members) to do the course as well and I supported him throughout. We both successfully completed the training.
I make my own jewellery and comic related products which I sell at local makers markets and events. I also take Eco Shed products to sell to make money for the project. Taking the leap to sell at markets has all been possible from the confidence I have built up. I have also learnt how to do my own books for the business and run a stock list.
L – What has been your biggest challenge?
J - Second guessing myself. It was really hard for me to try anything to start with. I still second guess myself, but I now tell myself to “sshh” and throw myself into stuff and can see that there is no point in doubting myself before I’ve tried it. Being given challenges but not being left on my own, and having support, has enabled me to see what I am capable of. Working with colleagues I can go to for advice and feel I can also give advice back really helps.
L – And your biggest achievement?
J - People relying on me – I never thought people would. And being able to bring out the best in some people. Instead of telling people what to do people, I love encouraging people to come up with their own ideas and working with them to take them forward. For example, Russell wanted to make a box in the shape of a coffin – we made the lid and it was far too small and fell straight in. It was a good learning experience for both of us that we were able to laugh about!
"Jason is a good all round helper - if you want help, he's there. I’ve been making a wooden house - he's showed me where to cut it and helped me with marking it out. He mucks in with cleaning up - we do things together." - Karl
I now have the confidence to use my initiative and suggest ways for improvement – I’m able to do this with humour which the people I support seem to enjoy (I’m well known for doing random jigs or songs at work. Rosemary describes my singing as sounding like a drowned cat!).
I love that I have work that uses my experiences to help people as it helps me, too.
L - What are your plans for the future?
J - I would like to come off Universal Credits by increasing hours at the Living Wage. I am looking at taking on Health and Safety responsibility for The Pulse, maintenance and gardening at The Pulse k) and possibly doing some teaching assistant work on the Skillnet supported internship programme. I am considering doing training to take on PAT testing all the equipment at The Pulse and Eco Shed. I support at Eco Shed on a Tuesday and provide support cover when needed.
I would like to be working for Skillnet full time and use my spare time to work on my own hobbies and making.
I am always looking for different ways to re-use materials – e.g. turning sawdust from eco shed into building materials by mixing with paint and glue, and looking for sea glass to make interesting rock formations in my own work.