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Local mental health charity celebrates apprentice achievements

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Recent statistics show that NHS mental health and learning disability nursing staff have decreased by over 6,000 in the last decade, a decline of more than 12% and 40% respectively.*

The need for new staff entering the profession is critical, therefore as part of National Apprenticeship Week (3-9 February 2020), local mental health and learning disability charity, Blyth Star Enterprises, is celebrating vocational achievements obtained by their own apprentices working towards a career in social care.

19-year-old Joe Liddell and 38-year-old James Nixon were previously at a loss with their free time and career options having both left schools with minimal qualifications.

Morpeth-based Joe had started a manufacturing and engineering course at college but found it wasn’t the right fit. On leaving, he dedicated his time to volunteering at a local Oxfam shop. However, with no guaranteed hours, he found himself once again looking for further work.

Neil Hedley, manager at Blyth Star’s Woodfuel Centre, a kiln-dried wood factory providing service users who have varying, often complex needs with a supportive work environment, suggested Joe become an apprentice. Joe is now six months into a two-year apprenticeship scheme, working towards an NVQ Level 2 in social care.

Joe said: “The apprenticeship scheme at The Woodfuel Centre has changed the way I look at working. Previously I struggled to get motivated, into a routine or enjoy work, but now I’m doing something that’s hands-on whilst learning how to support people with mental health and learning disabilities.

“Everyone at The Woodfuel Centre works at their own pace and it’s important that I help people find activities that best suit their needs. I feel what I’m doing now has meaning and that I’m helping others as well as myself.

“Before I worked here, I was applying for so many jobs. I wanted to work but kept being rejected. It was really tough and made me question if I’d ever get a job. But now as a full-time apprentice, I’m back on track and enjoying my role.”

James Nixon left school with minimal qualifications and managed pubs until he suddenly found himself out of a job, filling in back-to-back job applications with no success.

A careers advisor suggested that he volunteer at The Woodfuel Centre for a 26-week period whilst actively applying for jobs. James enjoyed it so much that he continued to volunteer after the 26-week stint.

After five years, James is now a full-time employee and has achieved an NVQ Level 3 in social care whilst also passing his driving, forklift and minibus tests. James is qualified to safely handle machinery such as chainsaws, administer first aid and is the acting fire marshal.

James said: “Working at The Woodfuel Centre and gaining qualifications has completely changed my life. This wasn’t a career path I thought I’d go down but I’m really glad I did.

“I spend my days supporting people who, without Blyth Star Enterprises, would struggle to keep a job due to their complex needs and I know how it feels to be without a job. It’s really demotivating.

“I hadn’t realised how many mental health conditions exist and how much they can impact people. I plan to gain further qualifications so that I can better work with the service users at Blyth Star Enterprises.”

Neil Hedley, manager at The Woodfuel Centre, added “I’m incredibly proud of both Joe and James. They’ve shown such enthusiasm and dedication to learning and assisting others.

“Apprenticeships and vocational studies are an excellent way for people to expand their knowledge and get hands-on working experience. We’re pleased we can offer this opportunity within Blyth Star Enterprises.”

Blyth Star Enterprises is a not-for-profit charity providing living support services, training and sheltered employment opportunities. The organisation is based upon three fundamental values: somewhere to live, somewhere to work and someone to care. Blyth Star currently offers innovative services to over 350 people living with learning disabilities and/or lifelong mental health issues across Northumberland and the North East.

To learn more about Blyth Star Enterprises and The Woodfuel Centre visit: www.blythstar.org.uk.

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