James was made aware of The Freedom Project, our work readiness and life skills programme, by his GP. Struggling with mental health issues, James found Mustard Tree to be a non-judgemental environment that gave him the space to start to re-build his self-confidence and manage his anxiety via the routine of participating on the Freedom Project and the support of the Mustard Tree family. James has since progressed to employment with Amazon Warehouse.

‘’Before I joined The Freedom Project, I’d only had one job, working for a supermarket for six or seven years. I started as a shelf-stacker and ended as a shift supervisor. I see myself as a loyal person and wanted to build a career at that company. I was proud of the way I’d progressed there. That said, I have a tendency to push myself too hard and had to drop out of Uni because I’d ended up making myself ill through overwork. Work didn’t support me through that and, after awhile, let me go.

I felt seriously let down by that and my issues went into freefall, I mean I couldn’t even get on a bus because the thought of it made me so anxious. I also had severe depression and had started to hear voices. It reached the point where I referred myself to Meadowbrook, which is a mental health facility in North Manchester. Once I’d been sectioned I found that most of my friends didn’t want to know me and I couldn’t even get an interview, let alone a job. To be honest, I was halfway convinced that I’d never work again.

It was my GP who recommended the Freedom Project to me. The main thing that appealed was that everyone here has different issues, which made me feel easier about joining as I couldn’t take being judged. To be honest, my self-confidence was at rock bottom. So, I wanted to re-build that, to spend my time doing something worthwhile because, left to my own devices, I’ll get up at all hours. So I needed a sense of routine and I wanted the chance to make some friends along the way.

I feel like I’ve rebuilt a lot of my confidence during my time at Mustard Tree. There’s lots of little ways they build you up here, like when the Operations Manager suggested that I apply to be warehouse supervisor. As with my old job, it’s important for me to feel like I can make a contribution, so that helped with my self-esteem. I was also going to help Mustard Tree’s Skills Trainer with coordinating the customer service course, but ended up getting this job with Amazon before it started.

Being here’s taught me things as well; I used to be really judgemental about the type of people who were unemployed for years on end. Because of my experience here, I know people who are in that trap. So I can see how hard it is. For me, this place has been the bridge between unemployment and returning to work and I know it can be for my friends here too. I’ve also realised how lucky I am in comparison to some. I mean, my family took me in after I came out of Meadowbrook and if they hadn’t, I’d have been on the streets. Some of the participants aren’t so lucky.

As I said, before I came here, I was really worried that people would judge me somehow but, honestly, I don’t feel like anyone’s even said anything negative about me. It’s a really warm atmosphere. I used to feel like I was going to be unemployed forever, having to be tight with money for the rest of my life and just wasn’t going to be able to afford to move out of my parents’ house. In comparison to that, my confidence is through the roof. Recently I even managed a trip to Chadderton. I realise that sounds like a small thing, but it’s an area of Manchester I’d never been to before and I can’t even cope with going into town unless I know it’s going to be quiet, because my anxiety kicks in.

In the future, I want to stay with a company and work my way up, either working for Amazon or wherever else. If my job takes me to another part of the country or even world, that’s fine too. I also want to get my own place and start a family, both of which are things I’d given up on before I came to Mustard Tree. I’m really proud of my time here, the progress I’ve made and grateful for the space that the Freedom Project gave me to make that progress.’’

Written by Gordon Harries

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