This National Apprenticeship Week, Andrew a Support Worker at St Mungo’s shares his experience of recovery and being a part of our apprenticeship scheme.
I moved to London late 1980s as a young gay man from Blackburn in Lancashire. My childhood had been very lonely, part of a large dysfunctional family in a town where I experienced homophobia. Once in London I found what had been missing from my life, I could be myself and be with others like me. But in the early 1990s, I contracted HIV. At this time, there was still a lot of stigma attached to it. I became outcast from the community I had found and my loneliness returned. A friend of mine introduced me to ecstasy, and a culture of extreme partying. I thought “why not?” as the diagnosis I had been given came with a life expectancy of two years.
But with medication for HIV becoming more advanced and understood, the two years passed quickly. However I did not stop the partying. This consumed my life eventually leading to an addiction to stronger drugs. I felt there was no hope.
Road to recovery
Several years ago I started a long journey of recovery when I was fortunate enough to secure a place in a rehab centre. I then started a volunteering role at a local Community Centre in Westminster. During my time there, I was able to develop new skills, such as how to communicate properly in a world outside of what I had been used to and the importance of being reliable, punctual and accountable. Over time I gained the trust of the management and was given a lead role in providing the ‘Hot Meal Service’ at the centre. I was soon inducting new volunteers and started to see how my lived experience could be used positively to help others.
I was being supported through my recovery by the Terrence Higgins Trust. My support worker there suggested that I try their ‘Back to Work scheme and I saw this as the perfect opportunity to move from volunteering into a full-time job.
Whilst working with my mentor at Terrence Higgins Trust, I applied for the apprentice Drug & Alcohol Support Worker role at St Mungo’s. The news that I had been successful in my application was overwhelming, but very exciting. I was going to be able to sign off benefits for the first time in my life, I was becoming an active member of society. I was offered an opportunity to take a position within the team at a St Mungo’s mental health service in South Camden.
Experience of my apprenticeship
I had very little education as a child, always being reminded that I was thick and I would never amount to very much. This was a cause of some anxiety for me in regards to the studying part of my apprenticeship at St Mungo’s. But I had tutors that would support me throughout the apprenticeship, as well as in subjects such as Maths & English. At first, I thought there was no way I could manage this but I was given support, time, encouragement, and understanding.
I remember at my first team meeting, being introduced as the new apprentice, I was so nervous. But the team were great, I was made to feel a part of the work straight away and I soon found my confidence.
I even ended up enjoyed the studying part of the apprenticeship completing with a Pass. On completion of my apprenticeship, I was offered a full-time position at a St Mungo’s high support service in Westminster. I really enjoyed my experience there, helping residents with their mental health and substance abuse. This role allowed me to learn and grow, and when the service was being decommissioned, I worked with a great team and external parties to ensure that all the residents were appropriately rehomed.
I was then offered my present position as Support Worker. I currently have ten clients that I’ve been supporting throughout the Covid-19 pandemic in different ways; moving on into independent living or helping them make their first steps into low support living away from the streets.
My apprenticeship at St Mungo’s has allowed me to become the support worker I am today, using my lived experience to support others and better my own life. I am very thankful for the experience.
Find out more about the St Mungo’s apprenticeship scheme here.