Alex’s story: My journey into employment
5 October 2016
In 2011 I was studying economics at the University of Manchester. Between my second and third year at university I attempted to cycle from London to Croatia. I was cycling back from a food shop when I lost control of my bike. I fell off and broke my back. The accident compressed my spinal cord at the T10 level, leaving me without feeling from the waist down. It was a life-changing experience, but I always remember feeling quite positive about my situation whilst I was in hospital. The staff members were so welcoming and happy to answer any questions I had about life in a wheelchair.
I am unusual in the sense that my lowest point wasn’t when I broke my back, but instead it was after I finished my degree when I spent a year unsuccessfully looking for work. During this time I felt lost and unsure what to do in life.
I was sort of meandering through it. One day, I came across a post from Back Up on social media asking for volunteers. I made contact with the team and started going to the office a couple of times each week to work with different teams and get a taste of working life.
Shortly after I agreed to go on the Back Up To Work course that was being run at the Savills head office in London. But the closer the course got the more reluctant I was to attend. I didn’t think I needed to go on a course and was pretty sceptical about the whole thing. I didn’t realise how much there was to learn about taking interviews, both in how to answer questions about yourself and what the interviewers are trying to get from you.
We also discussed what adjustments employers can make for you as a disabled employee. I was surprised to hear how willing some employers were to adapt the workplace for staff. It sounded like some of them would go above and beyond for their employees. The difficult part was feeling confident enough to speak to your employer about what your need. These changes could be anything as small as having a higher desk to be able to fit your legs under, to much larger projects like installing automatic doors. It was quite encouraging to hear about this and reassuring for when I eventually did find employment.
I went home from the two day Back Up to Work course relieved that I had taken part. I was now much more confident about getting a job and I had a better idea as to how I was going to achieve this.
After I finished the course, Back Up offered me a part time role as an Individual Giving Fundraiser. Working at Back Up gave me regular office experience as well as more responsibilities. The longer I worked at Back Up, the wider range of roles I was able to take on and the more confidence I gained. Working in different areas allowed me to realise what I enjoyed more. I found I enjoyed working with numbers, analysing what we sent out to try and tailor the mailings better. I liked the problem solving aspect of it.
Working, even part time, allowed me to have structure in my life. I had more self-worth, and I was going out and socialising more with colleagues. The benefits of work spilled over to the rest of my life. During my time at Back Up, I also did some work experience at Savills. A year later, out of the blue I received an email from their finance team. They said they were impressed with the work I had performed the year before and asked if I wanted to go in to speak to them about a role that had opened up.
I have now been working in the Savills finance team for just over a month. I came out of university three years ago, not knowing where to turn. I was applying for jobs but not hearing anything back. I wasn’t happy. It was only once I started volunteering at Back Up that this changed. Without the initial help from Back Up I would probably be at a dead end in life, not know what to do next, not knowing if I could even do anything. Back Up showed me the possibilities.