It might seem like such a simple thing to most of us. For Brandon, making a brew for someone wasn’t just something he didn’t know how to do, if you’d have asked him he probably would have clammed up, and got worried about how to get out of the situation.

I’m really pleased to say that the Brandon I’m meeting today at FareShare Midlands in Lenton, Nottingham, isn’t like that anymore. OK, so full disclosure, I’ve just walked into the room where he’s been enjoying his lunch, it’s warm but he’s got his hood up in preparation for meeting someone new, and that’s fair enough.

A couple of minutes in though, and we’re sitting down at the table talking excitedly about the awesome logo on the can of (sugar free) energy drink he’s sipping on. It’s fair to say that Brandon likes the new version of himself, and even though he’s got the hang of making coffee, he’s in luck, someone else has just made me a cup.

Brandon’s been on quite a journey to get to this point, and even though we’ve just met, he’s keen to point out how it’s been a life changing one.

“After I left school, I didn’t really do well, I liked college but I thought I wanted a job more, because of my confidence and anxiety though, that was when it all fell apart, and I thought, oh great, my life’s done. At the time. I thought I’ve got nothing else to do. I was about 17 at the time, I thought that’s it. So I signed on, and I was on Universal Credit for, well, it seemed like years, it feels like it was a long time!”

That’s when Brandon found out about FareShare Midlands, who are a partner on the Nottingham Works 4 You employability project. FareShare Midlands are building on their overall mission to fight hunger and tackle food waste, by creating opportunities through their employability programmes. When Brandon joined the project, from that point on, his life really took a turn for the better. 

Brandon moves around in his chair, and plays with his hair nervously, saying; 

“I was always fidgeting back then and doing that, it was a nightmare. I came here and Lee Anne helped me get my confidence up, and now I’m here I’m much better than I was before, and I’m really enjoying it. FareShare have helped me massively with my confidence, and also speaking. I was always a quiet person, I didn’t really speak, but now I’ve come out of my own shell, and I can speak to other people.”

To me, the stranger in the room, it’s clear, and Brandon says as much; he wouldn’t have been able to talk to someone who’s come in here, just walked into his Thursday afternoon and stuck a microphone in front of him!

Lee Anne, Brandon’s employability coach, explains how FareShare Midlands have helped Brandon, as they have done with a number of young people since they started the employability project last April. As I discover, it all started where we began this story, with making cups of tea and coffee for people in the FareShare Midlands warehouse:

“We didn’t throw Brandon in the deep end, we practiced a lot, he had a notepad and had to write down my order and what I wanted. Brandon hadn’t been into the warehouse at that point so it was just to get him familiar with the environment.”

Brandon adds:

“I had to ask questions, to check if I’d heard [the order] right, or did I need to go back. That’s what I was doing. I had to ask for feedback and I didn’t like it, but I did it. They said they both enjoyed it, someone gave me a nine out of ten. It was just building little steps in my confidence, and then, I tell you what, I really enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed being here, coming here everyday, I knew I needed to do this more, so I thought to myself, everyday, I need to do this. I’ve got to do this myself.”

Fast forward a few months and Brandon’s had a lot of support from Lee Anne and FareShare Midlands, so much so that he’s found work, and he couldn’t be happier.

“It was the end of August I think, when I started here. We were going on the computers, just checking what kind of jobs were on there. I had to send CVs, I had support from Lee Anne, and I went to job fairs. That was a bit of a different experience, I spoke to a few employers, but they didn’t get back to me. I thought, I’m not just going to be waiting around, so I thought I’m just going to try more opportunities.”

That’s when Brandon heard about the Kickstart vacancy with the Canal & River Trust, he says;

“I liked it because I’m more of an outside person, so like that was beneficial for me, so I thought this is the one for me, one thousand percent!

“I start at 9am till 5pm but I have to get up at half past six, because if I don’t, my next bus is later and I wouldn’t be able to make that one. I have to get up early. It is tiring, but at the end it’s worth it because I’m actually getting up for something I’m enjoying. When it’s half six and I’ve just woken up, I’m like, oh no, but I’m also like yes, I need to go because it’s some thing I’m enjoying, I like it, and I get paid for it too.”

Brandon has been supported by his Group Leader Ollie, and Kickstart Project Manager Danny at the Trust, since January. I caught up with them on a video call to ask about the types of jobs Brandon is doing for them, and what it means to them to support young people through Kickstart.

Ollie says: “One of the things I’ve seen with the three young people we’ve taken on from FareShare, including Brandon, even though it’s still early days, is how reflective they are about what they’ve done well, and what they need to improve on. It’s great to see that they’re learning and recognising these behaviours, it’s a really positive thing.”

Danny adds; “Our organisation has been around a long time, and we have an ageing workforce, so bringing young people into the organisation is really important. It feels like Kickstart has helped us as an organisation, it’s brought new ideas, new ways of working, and learning from young people like Brandon is just as important as teaching them the skills we need.

“The Canal & River Trust has been able to offer all their Kickstarters including Brandon wrap around support as well as employment. We work on their online presence, writing CVs and covering letters, and how to conduct themselves at work and in interviews. Even if they go somewhere else after the six months. They’ll have been working in a group, coming to work three and a half days a week for six months, getting into that routine, understanding which conversations you can have at work and which you can’t. Some of them have never been in a work environment, so learning those work values and how to conduct yourself more professionally in work is vital to their future success.”

Lee Anne is totally onboard, and so passionate about developing relationships with employers like the Canal & River Trust; “It’s all about sustainability, and understanding the bigger picture, and keeping them on track because the opportunities for all three young people is life changing.”

The final word goes to Brandon, before we fist bump in a covid-safe way, and say bye to each other;

“The people I work with are amazing, they just make me smile, it makes it for me. I’ve had to learn how to behave at work, what to say or not say, and follow the Canal & River Trust values, it’s taught me a lot. Working outside, in such an open area, there’s people coming past and asking questions, so it’s really good meeting different people. I really enjoy it. We started brick laying yesterday and it took us all day because we had to get the footpath out and put it all back in, it was hard, but it was worth it. It makes me feel good, because I can see the work I’ve done with my own hands, and I’ve learnt something that I haven’t done before.”

Kickstart vacancies like Brandon’s are available until the end of February so don’t miss out if you’ve been inspired by Brandon. If you’re aged 16 to 24 and on Universal Credit there’s a Kickstart job that’s right for you, whether you’re looking for experience and a career in a manual trade, office work, IT, or something creative like marketing or graphic design, take a look on the Nottingham Jobs website to see the variety of roles available right now.

Nottingham Works 4 You is part-funded by the European Union through the European Social Fund (ESF).