Tom says that he had felt mentally unwell for a few years and, despite encouragement from his parents, was struggling to leave his house. However, he has since gained a major boost to his confidence that has led to him working in a job where he can support others in a similar situation.
This is thanks to support from the Lancashire Wildlife Trust, a delivery partner of two programmes designed to support people into work in Lancashire - MPT Steps and More Positive Together.
Both programmes are delivered by 20 partners across Lancashire, supported by the European Social Fund and managed by Active Lancashire.
It’s an inspiring story and Tom has provided us with an overview to help encourage others to take up similar offers of support.
What was your situation before you accessed the support?
“At the time, I wasn’t leaving the house at all. I’d been like this for a few years and it took a few more before my parents convinced me to see the doctor and begin my recovery.
Along with medication and therapy I was given a social prescriber to call me every week and help me improve my wellness through more holistic means. My social prescriber offered to refer me to Lancashire Wildlife Trust’s nature and wellbeing sessions so I could meet a new group of people and progress towards volunteering and work.
I’ve always enjoyed being in nature and prior to my isolation I spent time hiking and travelling, so it seemed the Nature & Wellbeing Service would be a good fit to get me outside.
I was nervous but also excited to be doing something with my life and moving forward. I signed up with Jo, one of the Nature & Wellbeing Officers and joined the next available session. I heard we could build things and use tools, which sounded enticing.”
How was your first session?
“My first session was at the Chorley allotment, where we made butterfly feeders out of spare wood and old bottle caps. It was really nice to be outside especially in summer, and spend time focusing on making something.
I felt at ease and welcomed by Jo and the volunteers, and although I was quiet I got a lot out of it. I knew I wanted to come back the next week and it was great to have something to look forward to, rather than every day being the same.
I found it enjoyable to be doing something for the benefit of wildlife too, like I was already giving something back. Giving was a big motivation for me to volunteer down the line, as I felt guilty for not contributing to society while I was ill.
The sessions are usually based around one or more of five themes; connecting, giving, learning, noticing and being active. These were the same things taught to me through my social prescriber and therapy but I hadn’t previously had the opportunity to meet all of them at the same time until the sessions.”
How else did the sessions support you?
“In the next few sessions I met a Lancashire Wildlife Trust staff member who had a similar experience to me, having gone from a participant to a volunteer and then employed by the Trust. I thought their journey sounded inspiring so I spoke with them about how they achieved that position, which they were happy to share. Because of this I had a long-term goal of joining up as a volunteer once I felt well and confident enough.
I was glad other people could understand what I went through, and especially that they found success after being in the position I was in before.
Over my six months or so with the Nature & Wellbeing Service as a participant I began to gain confidence and have a real interest in nature.”
What else did the sessions cover?
“I started to learn about different species just though enjoying the sessions, and found myself noticing things more in nature, stopping to look at birds, bees and trees and appreciate my surroundings.
We were mostly on the Chorley allotment, which had the benefit of being able to work on something each week and see it grow and improve.
We also did some trips around the local area, to places I had no idea existed despite being close, and I still visit these today. I learned about growing food and got to see the fruits of our labour.
There were some especially memorable sessions, like travelling to Brockholes nature reserve to cook over a fire in the woods, where the group was all working together. The group was diverse and I enjoyed hearing the input of others about how they would prefer the food, after not talking to many people for a few years.
During the week when I wasn’t on sessions I started to go for more walks, and felt mentally and emotionally better most of the time. The weekly sessions were a really good supplement to my other recovery methods.”
What skills did you learn?
“I’ve learned how to use woodworking tools as well as practical conservation and horticulture. I now enjoy gardening and doing DIY at home using these skills, which has brought me closer to my family.
People of all ages and abilities joined in on sessions. It was helpful to learn from others who were older and had worked in construction or landscaping, which also benefitted them by allowing them to teach and lead.
I completed a course called Wildworks through which I gained six AQA unit certificates relating to the Environment sector, which is really hard to get into without experience.”
How did volunteering with the group lead to work?
“Towards the end of my participation journey I felt like I could help other participants as my confidence has increased. I decided to focus on this and signed up to be a volunteer.
Becoming a volunteer was a huge step for me as it gave me some much-needed responsibility, while still feeling the benefits of the Nature and Wellbeing sessions.
I got to give back to others who had been in a similar situation to me, and was given training in Health and Safety and in Safeguarding for free by Lancashire Wildlife Trust.
At this point I felt well enough and comfortable enough to think about future employment, so I registered with MPT Steps through the Trust to attend an application and interview training session that was designed to give people the skills and knowledge to apply for work in the Environment sector.
I mentioned to Jo, the Nature & Wellbeing Officer, if she could let me know about possible employment opportunities at Lancashire Wildlife Trust. Following the training, I volunteered for just over a month and then Jo told me about an upcoming trainee position within the Nature & Wellbeing Service, which I managed to get.”
What did the trainee position involve?
“My trainee position was for six months and gave me even more training and experience, such as outdoor first aid training. It felt like a natural progression for me, having learned a lot of personal and communication skills that I needed through my nature & wellbeing journey.
I began to travel to different sites across Lancashire, going to sessions and events in Blackburn, Preston, Leyland and Greater Manchester.”
How did this make you feel?
“Not even a year before this I was stuck in my house, feeling like I had no future, so it was huge for my family and peers to see how much I had grown. The traineeship was the first employment I’d had in many years, and I finally felt I was doing something worthwhile.”
What is your role now?
“I was lucky enough that after my traineeship ended, an Assistant Nature & Wellbeing Officer job opened up in my department. I managed to get this too.
Through this job I can make a strong connection to participants, having been through the entire journey they are on. I know how they feel and can use my experience by helping staff and volunteers to help others.”
How does your lived experience aid you in helping other people?
“It’s especially helpful to have been through the entire journey when I promote nature and wellbeing at events and job centres; people seem to believe the potential more after hearing my story.
I hope I can use my own position to show others that there is hope and a path forward in life. You can recover and find success and nature can be a key part of this.
I’m still learning all the time, and I can now teach others about nature and conservation with the knowledge I gained as a participant.
It’s incredibly rewarding seeing people come out of their shells over time, making friends and becoming interested in nature.
The Nature & Wellbeing Service helped me achieve a fresh start in life and I’m so thankful for the opportunity.
I never missed a session even when I was struggling with my mental health, because I knew just a few hours would help me, and I want those hours now to help others who have been in a similar position.
I’m looking forward in life and hope to find more success in a long career to come.”