I started working in the catering industry at 16, until I was 29. Then when I moved to Manchester, I did a number of different jobs until I went back to cooking in 2014. The last place I worked before coming to Mustard Tree went through three head chefs within six weeks, and the final one was a nightmare. There was an incident where the kitchen hadn’t been locked up properly; he had blamed it on me when it wasn’t my fault. It was the first time I stood up for myself. After that I was ready to give up cooking altogether, but the Job Centre said I had to look for cooking jobs because that was what I was trained in.
While I was unemployed, my partner had been on disability living allowance but after the medical test she was told she was fit for work, after 30 years of not working. So she went to Mustard Tree to gain experience and found that it was a really supportive place to start out at, a place where people really watched out for her. She was coming home with great stories of how friendly everyone was, but I just didn’t really want to have anything to do with it.
After a few job knockbacks and me getting more and more disillusioned my partner suggested that I give Mustard Tree a go. At that time I was still battling depression, I was reliving a lot of my past. When I was 15 years old I had been sexually assaulted by a man I didn’t know. The longer I was out of work the more those memories surfaced and started to think less and less of myself. When I started at Mustard Tree they offered me counselling which helped me to work through those experiences and get through the depression.
Within six weeks of me being at Mustard Tree I was made a supervisor. It really started to give me self-confidence, particularly working with people who hadn’t worked in a kitchen before and being able to share my knowledge and skills with them. Working in the Mustard Tree kitchen made me stronger within myself and more positive. When I finished my time at Mustard Tree they offered me a job as the head chef. Now I work alongside people who are on the Freedom Project, teaching them about cooking and working in a kitchen.
Each day I come to Mustard Tree it feels like coming home. It’s homely, friendly, supportive. I don’t see this as work – I love doing what I do. There’s usually a lot of pressure in kitchens; there’s a lot of Gordon Ramsey’s out there who make you feel bad about yourself and like you’re worthless. But I try and treat people the way that I’d like to be treated, I try to encourage and support them. Cooking at Mustard Tree brought the spark back to me, I enjoy it again. If I hadn’t come to Mustard Tree I would probably be 20 stone, laying on the settee watching TV, alone. Because that’s the way I was going.
You’ve got to want to change, but Mustard Tree is the easiest place to make those changes. I’ve seen a lot of people come into the kitchen looking really nervous, but by the time they leave they’re a lot more confident, they’re happier, they’ve developed new skills and they’re doing things for themselves. It was the same for me, I’m so glad I came to Mustard Tree.
Shaun (age 50)
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