The lights gone off, the mood is dark It’s here again, making its mark Pushing you down, nowhere to go Trying to smile but only you know That the more you try the harder it is You struggle all day, feel you can’t beat this
The voice is loud booming around your head You pull up the covers, you just stay in bed Don’t want to face the day ahead Just want to shut out the world instead
A small light appears, what is it you wonder Are you feeling slightly better you ponder That sinking feeling isn’t there any more You’ve got over the hurdle of that you’re sure
Your friends send messages which make you feel better Emails, texts and even a letter It helps so much knowing that people care It makes you lose the feeling of despair
The sun is shining, you’re up and about You get out of bed, even manage to go out So grateful for kind messages of support You tried so hard, you battled, you fought
So even a bad day can be followed by good You won, you’ve done it, you knew you could.
At WorkPlace Leeds, we work with individuals to change their own circumstances at work, but also strive towards a culture change so that we can all benefit from more positive and healthier workplaces.
Here, Astrid Copeland, Job Retention Specialist at WorkPlace Leeds, shares her thoughts on some of the debates around women’s personal safety, and how these conversations could help improve workplace cultures and workplace wellbeing.
Trigger warning: Mentions of sexual assault, verbal abuse, coercive sex and rape.
I’ve been reading a lot on Facebook about the experiences of women and fear of men. I have seen a lot of anger, sadness and outrage. I look at the simple message “Educate Your Son” and I wonder: why does this provoke so much defensiveness?
I don’t think I know any woman who has not had a nasty experience at the hands of men. Experiences ranging from: feeling uncomfortable on a bus or in the workplace, being sexually assaulted or any other sort of uncomfortable and non-consensual physical contact, being verbally abused – through to coercive sex and rape. I don’t know any woman who hasn’t been told – “be careful where you go, watch what you drink, watch what you wear, protect yourself”. What is so wrong with educating our sons to be respectful and not to be led by a sense of entitlement?
I love men. I am married to a wonderful man and we have an astounding son. And yes, we educate him – appropriately to his age and we will continue to do so. So. what does “Educate Your Son” mean? I don’t believe it is teaching him that women have all-encompassing beliefs about what “all men” are like or that he should be ashamed of himself for being male. I believe it is the simple act of teaching respect for others and himself. I believe it is giving him the resources to understand that a woman might feel uncomfortable is she is walking home at right on her own and he is following behind. Not because she thinks “He” specifically is any sort of threat but because she doesn’t know that he isn’t – and she is scared.
The simple act of slowing down or crossing the road will reassure her and give him a sense of pride that he has done the right thing. I believe that teaching our sons not to objectify women and not to be threatened by her very presence regardless of what she looks like or what she’s wearing, or whether he finds her attractive, will stand him, and others in good stead. I believe that, if he is out with friends and they encounter a woman they should be aware that she may not find their intentions flattering and to be respectful.
Be respectful and don’t get offended is she doesn’t want to talk to him. I believe that he should know and understand that if a person if clearly attracted to him, dances with hi, accepts a drink and even kisses him it does not mean that he should expect anything or be left seething with anger if things go no further. And, if s person initially seems to be interested in having sex and then changes their mind that is fine and he should accept it no questions asked. I believe that my son does not need to have an innate sense of entitlement and power over others. He doesn’t need to assert his masculinity. He is just fine. And he can be an ally by being respectful and challenging his peers if they aren’t.
When our sons enter the world of further education and work they will be working alongside women as their peers and equals in every walk of life. Gone are the days where there are jobs for men and jobs for women. I know there are still avenues of work that are dominated by one sex or the other, but things are changing. I believe if we instil a sense of self-esteem based on respect for women we can start to eradicate some of the toxic workplace cultures that still exist in society. Most women I know have had a negative experience at work – usually “banter” but sometimes physical incidents. I have delivered training in male-dominated environments where the women in the group felt they had to sexualise themselves in order to fit in. I believe that misogyny is so ingrained in our culture and experiences that sometimes we hardly notice that is is happening and we just accept it. And so, we need to educate our sons to help challenge this.
I believe that if we teach our sons these messages – that their lives are not defined their power and penises – then perhaps there will be less need to teach our daughters to be fearful and we will encourage a generation of men to have a healthy sense of respect for others and themselves with confidence and self-esteme. I do believe that things can change. They’re not changing yet and that is because the inherent message is for women to protect themselves. That somehow she must have been ‘asking for it’ to be out after dark on her own, or because she is too attractive, or because of what she wore, or where she went or because she chose a male dominated work environment so just had to “put up with it”. Surely if we want things to change then it’s worth a try to shift the focus?
And by the way I think it’s important to teach respect to our daughters too.
My Journey with WorkPlace Leeds began in September of 2019 when my mental health nurse referred me to the job retention scheme as I was struggling in my job as a teacher. It was the only job I’d ever done, starting my career at aged 22, and twenty years later I was still doing it. I was working in a toxic environment and needed support with how to cope with that. The first time I met Emlyn, my WorkPlace Leeds Job Retention Specialist, I was not in a good place, and the appointment felt very alien.
I started with weekly appointments with Emlyn, and with his support, I looked at the pros and cons of my current job. Eventually, I made the decision to resign as it was time to jump shift from education and try something new. Once I was unemployed, I had to work with an Employment Specialist, and therefore needed to change worker. This change was a real struggle for me as I had built a positive working relationship with Emlyn.
Meetings with Immy began, as did the job applications. Immy was great at helping me not to feel disheartened by rejection after rejection. I felt that companies were not willing to look past the fact that all I’d ever done was be a teacher. My applications were full of transferable skills, but still not joy.
Then covid hit. All of a sudden I was locked away because I was shielding as I was in the clinically extremely vulnerable group. Like everyone else, all my meetings now took place on zoom. Weekly meetings with Immy, along with my Community Mental Health appointments, gave me focus during such a difficult time.
Because of pandemic, I had to change workers as Immy switched to supporting those at risk of losing their jobs. My new worker, Kay, worked so hard to be supportive and build a new working environment in my quest for a job. Then I randomly applied for a job working for the prison service, and I was invited for an interview. I passed the interview, but prison recruitment is done via a bizarre system where everyone who is successful is placed on a ‘Merit’ list until a post becomes available. Then it was time to wait for a job to come up.
My weekly sessions with Kay continued, the highlight being seeing a job working for a charity rescuing former battery hens. The job description was written from the point of view of a hen, and made us laugh until we cried. Laughter is good for the soul. and we both left that session feeling on top of the world.
I got my job offer at the end of January 2021, and I would not have got this far without the support of Kay, Immy and Emlyn. They have been champions, cheering me on when I have felt so low and hopeless. They’ve worked to support me when I wasn’t expecting such determination on their part.
My advise if you’re struggling with either the job you’re in or finding a job and your mental health is impacting this and vice versa? Take all the help WorkPlace Leeds has to offer, attend those appointments, listen to what the Job Retention Specialists and Employment Specialists have to say.
Would I do anything differently? Well, I’d rather not have been job hunting during a pandemic, but its not something anyone could have predicted. This time last year, we didn’t even know what social distancing was. Despite a rocky journey, I’ve got to where I need to be to start a whole new career. Thanks Kay, Immy and Emlyn- you have changed my life.
Typically, I spend a large chunk of my day taking care of my dog, Sasha. She is a rescue dog with little to no functioning eyesight. A Staffordshire Bull Terrier who is full of character and beans, she is approximately eight or nine years old. Due to her lack of sight, she requires a strict routine and plenty of stimulation to stay connected. We’ve spent the last four years together, whilst I was at university, moving in and out of dodgy, damp and overpriced private-rent flats. The flats aren’t relevant to my story, but I like to shoehorn a complaint about them whenever I can.
I don’t need to plead the case that taking care of a dog is full of rewards. And the opposite of things we think of as rewards, such a destroyed duvets and ripped leather cushion seats. Picture me, on the phone to my brother, laughing at my dog (whose fur is black and dark brown) because she’s walking into my living room with a big ball of white fluff on her back, to then realise that those large balls of white polyester came from costly furnishings.
But there are still many great benefits to looking after Sasha, one of those being that she gets me out of the house numerous times a day. I use these walks as an opportunity to practice walking meditations – which is effectively mindfulness. My favourite piece of advise from one of the meditation teachers on the app I use that encapsulates my experience with mindfulness in recovery, “walk like this is your refuge”. Finding purpose and meaning in walking has been enlightening and liberating for me. Because There had to be something that worked.
Lets rewind back to early 2019, I was in my final year at university, studying for an undergraduate degree in Creative and Professional Writing. Going to university was something that I always wanted to do, yet many hurdles stood in my way. Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, I had struggled with undiagnosed mental health issues and substance misuse, having spent that period of my life in unsafe, unsupportive and abusive environments. My intelligence and ability to be creative felt like my (only) ticket out of this seemingly ill-fated narrative.
But by the time I had reached my final year at university, at the age of 28, I had already dispelled many myths I had internalised, one of those being that I was unable to achieve anything or that I couldn’t “stick to anything”, one of the many ways that low esteem wriggles its way into your psyche. In terms of assignment marks, I had worked my way up to the top of my course and mostly importantly, i had been able to express myself in an authentic, meaningful and well-received way – transcending the overarching themes of my earlier life experiences.
Managing a myriad of personal issues wasn’t easy, but I worked very hard. By this point life’s ebb and flow had manifested a traumatic turn – on the morning of Friday the 1st of March 2019, I was attending my final science-fiction class of the year. It way my favourite module, as I love science-fiction and philosophy, these being recurrent themes in my writing. By the evening of this day, I had been informed that my Dad had committed suicide. I was sitting in class that morning, with no idea as to how my life was about to change forever. This event had unearthed many stagnant roots and forced me to question whether I had really dealt with the past, as well as the sickening, chest-heaving pain of losing my Dad, someone I had just began to re-build a relationship with. Every nerve-ending in my body felt like it had been electrically burnt, this feeling didn’t go away and it wasn’t going to do that of its own accord.
Finding meaning, purpose and mindfulness in walking has been nourishing, compared to the traditional practice of sitting down to meditate, which made me feel too close to my bodily experience. Me and Sasha will walk like its our refuge, a little acupuncture for the soul.
Despite this devastating life event, I still finished my degree, it took me a extra six months to do. I achieved a first class degree with honours, the highest overall grade out of everyone in my course. I also received the award for outstanding academic achievement. I couldn’t let anything get in the way of what I knew I could achieve. I am extremely grateful for the support I have received from WorkPlace Leeds and the Suicide Bereavement Service.
Blog Written by WPL Employment Support Client Kay (supported and encouraged by WPL Employment Specialist Kate Balmforth).
GM has been referred to WPL Employment Support service to receive support with his vocational aspirations and interests in computers and the automotive industry.
Due to my mental health condition, I was not in a position to consider employment for the past 18 years. My health still fluctuates but at the point of referral to WPL (Oct 2019) I felt I was able to prepare for my journey towards employment.
When I was referred to WPL in Oct 2019 – this was my 2nd referral to WPL employment support. I have engaged with WPL employment support previously in 2018 and made some progress but felt I had to withdraw from the support due to a family situation which significantly affected my mental health.
WPL employment service is based on a person-centred approach which worked very well for me. My vocational interests and long-term goals has been discussed and validated.
Together with my Employment Specialist worker Kate, we have developed a plan which included not only enrolment for an IT training and Motor Vehicle training at Leeds City College but also steps required for me to regain my confidence. This was initially addressed through simple but effective exercises for me to learn how to talk about why I am interested in my chosen field, what skills I already have and which skills I am hoping to develop.
Just developing the plan itself had a great confidence-boosting effect on how I felt. Knowing that there are steps for me to take to get me closer to my aspirations brought a certain sense of peace knowing I am already on a professional development pathway. My approach has changed from “one day I will” to “I am in a process of…”
My 2nd engagement with WPL employment support started very well with enrolling for WPL IT training, which initially I was attending at Lovel Park. I was also booked for couple of Recovery College training sessions which unfortunately I wasn’t able to attend. Kate helped me to prepare as how to talk to garage staff as to why I am interested in an automotive environment placement, whilst Kate herself started contacting local garages in a search for my work placement.
And then we all know what happened in mid-March this year. Covid-19 has put mine and everyone else’s plans on hold. My support by WPL staff has continued on a weekly basis but its remit has changed from vocational based to wellbeing for the duration of the lockdown. I still could continue with my WPL IT training which has moved from a classroom-based environment to an online facility. Kate has also shared with me other online training resources and I started some other courses relevant to my interests in technology.
At the beginning of a new academic year I made an attempt to enrol for a short Motor Vehicle training at Leeds City College. Unfortunately, the course has been cancelled and I am now acquiring automotive industry knowledge through online tutorials and reading couple of textbooks I have purchased to enhance my knowledge.
I am now reaching the end of my 1-year support with WPL. This however doesn’t mean I will abandon my hopes for acquiring skills in the area of motor vehicle maintenance. With Covid-19 still imposing its limitations, I am hopeful to reach my goals. There is always another year. And yet one more chance for Motor Vehicle short course enrolment at Leeds City College in September 2021.
What top two things would you advise other service users who are considering their next steps towards employment?
Whilst preparing for employment after a long time off work – take your time and focus on your strengths and what you are passionate about. Don’t rush.
Be openminded and prepare to consider a wide range of opportunities that may be presented to you.
Case study written (on behalf of the client GM and with his contribution) by Kate Balmforth – WPL Employment & Job Retention Specialist
I worked from home in a previous role and found the experience to be quite isolating so when the world changed overnight and we packed up our desks to go home I was a little worried. It’s been my fellow team leaders who have made sure that the experience wasn’t of isolation but of togetherness. Oddly I now feel closer to my colleagues and to the wider WPL team. We have all shared a very unique experience and with us all being so passionate about mental health we’ve made sure we’re all looking after one another and are encouraging each other to look after ourselves.
Some of the challenges I found working from home have come from sitting in my kitchen with the fridge and ‘treat cupboard’ in clear eyeshot. I’ve discovered a new love (obsession) for babybell cheese and have to keep having a word with myself to stop mindlessly grabbing another one from the fridge. I could move my workspace elsewhere I suppose but I worry that if I ventured into the living room I’d be too tempted to stick on Love Island Australia and that would be me done.
Working from home is full of distractions – the cat, the dog, the husband (who was furloughed for 6 weeks of lockdown and every hour on the hour popped his head around the door asking ‘what you doing?’.) I found keeping a to do list really helpful to keep me on track and away from those distractions and on the whole I think I’ve been more productive at home.
I am missing my colleagues and team though. Zoom and Teams are great but there’s nothing quite like a face to face meeting over a cup of tea. I’m really looking forward to getting back to the office now…my home offices buddies Katniss and Dougie might have something to say about that though……
As a teacher, it feels like the most privileged kind of burden to spend so much time with other people, particularly young people who are making sense of the world and navigating contexts that they didn’t create. That’s just a wordy way of saying that teaching comes with the stresses and joys of intense relationships. And as with all relationships, these interactions are ones that you can learn from and build from.
There’s an emotional toll that is taken by the ups and downs of all this human activity. I once heard somewhere that teaching is one of the most stressful jobs out there due to the level of human interaction required on a daily basis. But somehow, this can be its own remedy. In this year of lockdown and the creeping isolation that comes with social distancing, some of the biggest concerns have been surrounding wellbeing and mental health. This is why I called it a privilege up in the opening paragraph back there. I find solace in the company of others, sharing, talking, living, together. When I teach, I connect.
Writing is different, but similar, and I apologise if that’s an overly cryptic assertion with which to proceed. Writing is kind of selfish, and kind of inwards looking and kind of soul-searching you might even say. But then, you hit ‘send’, and out it goes into the world, into the heads of others, moments of intimacy that you instigate but don’t control.
A lot gets said about self-care. I find that in both my guises, as a teacher and a writer, the care for others is a central theme that helps me to take care of myself. As a father, husband, son, friend and colleague, I have always drawn strength from those closest to me, fortunate enough to have a support network of people who I care about, who care about me.
It’s a privilege to be writing now for WorkPlace Leeds as a nominated workplace hero. It’s an honour for my work and words to be acknowledged in this very humbling manner. If there’s one connecting factor between what I do when I teach and what I do when I write, it’s that I seek comfort through connections. And I hope I’ve managed to do some of that in this short piece.
Blog arranged by Eden Owen-Jones – WPL Administrator
Will Smith (Actor, Producer, Rapper and Songwriter)
Will Smith has been on my TV screen since I was young from his well-known sit-com Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which people still sing and know all the words for the introduction song! The show covered and challenged many black representations from police brutality, racial profiling, racially biased hiring policies to interracial dating. At the time, it just seemed like another show, but it is not until you get older and you realise even after all these years these issues are still happening in our current time. Will Smith over the years has been in many movies such as Hitch, Bad Boys and others, he has continued to make me laugh and I always know if Will Smith is in it – it will be a movie worth watching! He continuously spreads joy, happiness and gives back to the community as well as being a co-founder of his own charity ‘The Will and Jada Smith Family Foundation’ (https://www.wjsff.org/) .
Will Smith’s Father taught Will and his brother (Harry) a valuable lesson when they were younger and asked them to build a wall from scratch, by hand outside his shop. They were both hesitant that it would not get done but each day after school they carried on until a year and half later the wall was built.
After it was completed Will’s Father turned around and said, ‘don’t you all ever tell me that you can’t do something’. Will shares this story till this day and breaks it down on how this can help and inspire people.
the bricks can be whatever aspect of your life you want to work on e.g. wanting a new job, better housing environment, improve your health etc.
Starting by picking an area of your life that you most want to improve and lay your first brick e.g. learning new skills, learning how to plan, going for a walk but make sure it is something small and attainable
Then tomorrow, lay another brick. And the next day another. If you do this day in and day out, over time you will become the greatest version of yourself.
“You don’t set out to build a wall. You don’t say ‘I’m going to build the biggest, greatest wall that’s ever been built. ‘ You don’t start there. You say ‘I’m going to lay this brick as perfectly as a brick can be laid,’ and you do that every single day, and soon you have a wall.”
I remember the first time (about 15 years ago ) that I heard Nina Simone singing “Feeling Good” – I don’t know what it was exactly about it but something in the way she sang it was very moving. The words are really powerful in themselves anyway, but other artists’ performance of the song doesn’t quite hit the mark for me in a way that it does when I hear Nina sing it. I haven’t listened to my Nina CD for a while so I’m going to dig it out again…it’s a great driving song when out in the countryside.
Birds flying high you know how I feel Sun in the sky you know how I feel Breeze drifting’ on by you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn It’s a new day It’s a new life for me yeah
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me Ouh And I’m feeling good
Fish in the sea, you know how I feel River running free, you know how I feel Blossom on the tree, you know how I feel
It’s a new dawn It’s a new day It’s a new life For me And I’m feeling good
Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don’t you know Butterflies all having’ fun, you know what I mean Sleep in peace when day is done, that’s what I mean And this old world, is a new world And a bold world for me
Stars when you shine, you know how I feel Scent of the pine, you know how I feel Oh freedom is mine And I know how I feel
It’s a new dawn It’s a new day It’s a new life For me
And I’m feeling good
And feeling good is how we all would like to feel. This can be however challenging at times in circumstances and situations when possibilities are limited, and hope is distant. And this is how often jobseekers perceive their circumstances before they land in a job. For those still in a process of sending job applications, please remember at the beginning of each day:
It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life!
I admire Oprah Winfrey for her resilience, determined, outgoing and kind hearted attitude. Oprah has shared her wisdom and knowledge on the subject of career on many forums but her classic career advice is:
“Your job is not always going to fulfil you. There will be some days that you just might be bored. Other days, you may not feel like going to work at all—go anyway…The number one lesson I can offer you is…to become so skilled, so vigilant, so flat-out fantastic at what you do that your talent cannot be dismissed.”
Blog written by: Kiran Soor – WPL IPS Employment Specialist, Debra Crompton -Powley – WPL Mental Health Job Retention Specialist, Lisa Fisher – WPL IPS Employment Specialist
My Black History Icon would have to be Nelson Mandela, because he used his life to change the world forever. He was not afraid to be the catalyst for change in a world that needed change so critically. He continues to a be a symbol of the power that one individual has to make a difference.
Some of Mandela’s most famous quotes can inspire us to achieve more parity in the workplace:
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
“Everyone can rise above their circumstances and achieve success if they are dedicated to and passionate about what they do.”
“It always seems impossible, until it is done.”
Photo of Nelson Mandela’s Robben Island Prison building and the cell from Kate B private collection:
For me, Rosa Parks is an icon because she stood up for equality for African Americans. She wanted to be remembered as a person who wanted to be free, this brave act demonstrated her courage as a woman which resonates with me and has empowered me to never be afraid of doing what is right. The learning taken from this and one of the simple rules in life…“if you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place”.
This is a great lesson that we can use in the workplace, as people are often worried about stepping forward in the face of injustices. Let’s be inspire by Rosa and speak up for equality in the workplace!
My black heroes are both from the world of creativity – firstly, Lemn Sissay, whom I only really discovered during lockdown after listening to his desert Island Discs podcast. A truly beautiful soul and his poetry is utterly sublime. His early life experiences in care were so traumatic and yet through his own self direction he found the power of language to find a way for himself that I find truly moving and astounding. His capacity to forgive is something I greatly admire. There’s also Ella Fitzgerald – her music says it all. I could drown in her voice but she wasn’t just a musician, she was also a Civil Rights Activist using her talent to break racial barriers across the nation. She was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Pep[;e Equal Justice Award and the American Black Achievement Award. A truly amazing woman!
Black music heroes can inspire us at work, both in their creativity and work ethic, but also in their music. If you’re having a stressful day at work, it can often help to pop some headphones in for five minutes and escape.
Blog devoted to the subject of Black History Icons on issues relevant to the workplace written by: Fiaz Amin – WPL Team Leader, Natalie Alden – WPL Mental Health Employment Specialist, Astrid Copeland – Job Retention Specialist
Edited and illustrated by Kate Balmforth – WPL Employment & Job Retention Specialist