People: From school dropout to award-winning support worker: how I turned my life around

Bristol24/7, May 5, 2017

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Jess Sutton, a support worker at Milestones Trust, tells her story during Learning Disabilities Week (19th-25th June)

When I was 16 I had no interest in school. I didn’t really put any effort into my GCSEs and as a result I left with none to my name.

To be honest, I didn’t think it would matter too much. But when I went on to apply for jobs I realised I had nothing to say.

It was then that I made the decision to return to school at 17 and sit my GCSEs. I was living in a hostel as I’d left home and I needed to earn some money and make a better life for myself.

I hopped about from job to job over the years including a stint at waitressing and in a call centre, which I hated. But it was an apprenticeship as a multi-activity instructor, helping to teach children to zip wire, abseil and quad bike that first sparked my interest in helping people with learning disabilities.

A standout moment for me was helping a boy who was deaf and had autism to learn how to ride a quad bike. He absolutely loved it. And it meant so much to me that I’d helped him achieve something that may well stick with him for the rest of his life.

I really enjoyed that job, but it was an apprenticeship, so it came to an end, and, before I knew it, I was back to square one: applying for jobs again.

I was desperate to work with people with learning disabilities but my lack of qualifications meant I wasn’t getting any interview requests. That’s when I came across an advertisement for a paid apprenticeship at Milestones Trust.

It was the best decision I ever made. I was trained up and received my NVQ in Heath and Social Care after a year on the job. My role is focused on helping the residents of one of their Bristol based services – all of whom have learning disabilities – live their lives as independently as possible.

I like to think I help people do the things they love and live their lives to the full, whether it is working on a farm, taking an art or pottery class, going for a coffee or doing a newspaper round. These – and other more basic tasks – are activities that some of our residents wouldn’t be able to do without our help.

It is of course not without its challenges, for example, learning how to communicate with those who cannot do so verbally. But I’ve done it and I’ve built a rapport with those residents and, though it sounds cliched, it is a truly rewarding job.

One of my favourites moments so far was taking two of our residents on a canal boating holiday. One of the guys, who had always wanted to do it, got a chance to drive the boat. He was absolutely beaming!

For me, I had the opportunity to be more independent. Though my boss was there, I was given the responsibility of doing lots of the planning and it really paid off when I saw how much fun the guys were having.

Recently, I won two awards: one for Outstanding Apprentice, and one for Intermediate Apprentice of the Year in the Star Awards 2017. I was chuffed to bits! To top it off, I’m now no longer an apprentice, I’m a fully-fledged support worker.

When I think back to the angry teenager that I was, I can’t believe that was the same person I am now. I love life and I’ve realised there’s a big wide world out there – nothing’s going to stop me achieving my ambitions!

Milestones Trust is a Bristol-based charity that supports people with learning disabilities, mental health needs and dementia. If you’re interested in finding out more about the employment opportunities available at the trust, please visit the website.

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