A GREAT Project participant shares their story

Before relocating to the UK, Joanna worked as both a primary and secondary school teacher in her native country, Poland. Before joining the GREAT Project, Joanna felt her English language skills were not good enough to work as a teacher in the UK and she was also concerned she didn’t understand the British educational system. Joanna started on the project in the hopes she would better her language skills and to eventually find work in her field.

“I was at a time in my life where I wanted to think about looking for employment, but I needed help to find work and to understand the job market.”

Joanna first interacted with the GREAT Project when she met Eileen, an Employment Support Officer (ESO), at a children’s play session held at Beaumont Leys library. After discussing all the options that would become available to her as a participant on the project, Joanna decided to refer herself. Eileen was then appointed Joanna’s ESO, and they soon began working together to design a support plan right for Joanna.

Once signed up to the project, Eileen spoke with Joanna about her barriers and goals, and designed a support plan tailored to her needs. One of the first sessions Joanna was encouraged to attend was work club. Joanna was able to work on her CV and learn the skills she needed to search for a job effectively. Following on from this, Joanna also had a one-to-one interview skills session, followed by a mock interview. This is something Eileen felt would be beneficial for Joanna, as it would help prepare her for interviewing using English as a second language.

Although Joanna has all the relevant qualifications to teach in England, she felt most comfortable looking for a teaching assistant role, as she felt this would be an easier transition. Eileen felt it would be beneficial for Joanna to look at job specifications for a variety of teaching assistant roles, as this would give Joanna insight into what skills and qualifications would be needed at different levels. A real turning point in Joanna’s confidence came when she saw an advert that was specifically looking for a Polish speaking teaching assistant. Seeing this role showed Joanna that being bi-lingual is hugely beneficial and is considered a valued skill as oppose to a barrier.

Speaking of her time on the project, Joanna said:

“I really enjoyed having someone to talk to, and speaking in English has shown me that I can be understood by others. I also really liked having time to focus on my needs. Being a mother, sometimes it can be hard to focus on yourself, but I was able to put myself first. For those that are thinking about joining the GREAT Project, go for it – do something for yourself. Trust the people that offer you help because it’s worth a try.”

Eileen, Joanna’s Employment Support Officer, said:

“Joanna really has it all; good qualifications and work experience. She just needs to have more confidence in her spoken English. She will make a wonderful teaching assistant.”

Joanna has completed her time with the GREAT Project, and is looking forward to all the job prospects that will be available to her as a bi-lingual teacher. She is registered with multiple teaching agencies and is hoping to secure a job in September.

Another GREAT participant success story

At the time of joining the GREAT Project, Sharon felt very low and depressed. She was out of work and receiving Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to having difficulty with her mobility. Despite the problems she suffered with her arm and shoulder, Sharon’s benefits were cancelled following an assessment, leaving her feeling completely lost.

Sharon came into contact with the GREAT Project when a Leicester based care organisation recommended the project to her, and gave her a leaflet to read through. After reading over the leaflet and seeing all that the GREAT Project has to offer, Sharon decided to contact us.

Sharon met with her Employment Support Officer, Yachna, and outlined all her barriers to work, which included; lack of job skills, lack of transport, lack of access to child care, time pressures at home, and simply not knowing what’s out there. With this information, Yachna devised a support plan specific to Sharon’s needs.

“Meeting with Yachna felt like I was meeting up with a friend, and each week we did something different. She genuinely cared about my well-being and nothing was ever a chore for her.”

Yachna met with Sharon regularly, and recommended she attended work club so she could work on her CV, cover letter and job search skills. Around this time, Sharon also took proactive steps and began to volunteer at her son’s school two – three afternoons a week.

Yachna spoke with Sharon about what she’d like to do next with her career and asked if working in a school would be of interest. Sharon was open and said that she would love to, but wouldn’t know where to begin. With Yachna’s support and encouragement, they found a Teaching Assistant course and the following week, Sharon had an assessment and enrolled.

Speaking of her time on the project, Sharon said:

“It’s well worth the while, honestly. If you’re willing to work at it and communicate, then you won’t look back. I’m not just a mum anymore; it has given me a life and it has given me a purpose. It really is the best thing I ever did.”

Yachna, Sharon’s Employment Support Officer, said:

“Sharon’s come so far from when she joined the project, and I’m so proud of what she’s achieved. She frequently tells me that she’s a lot more confident and a lot happier now, and that’s really good to hear. I’m so glad she feels like she’s becoming more like her old self and has a future to look forward to.”

Sharon is now enrolled on the Teaching Assistant course, and is looking forward to what the future may bring.

The GREAT Project helps over 400 people!

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The GREAT Project has been supporting individuals into work or training for the last two years, and as it enters into its third year, the project has signed up and supported over 400 participants. However, the project still needs to engage with more participants to reach its lifetime target of 500 sign-ups. The GREAT Project is keen to sign up more participants, especially men, and encourage those that have barriers to work and need support to contact them.

The GREAT Project helps participants overcome different barriers and provides ongoing support, and to date, the project has helped over 70 people get back into paid employment, with a further 39 moving into further education or training.

Vandna Gohil, Executive Manager of the GREAT Project, said:

“We want to reach out to men who could benefit, as we understand there’s varying reasons why men don’t always access support that’s available. But with the GREAT Project, we offer something totally different to the support they may have accessed before.”

The project takes both self-referrals and organisational referrals, and encourages those that have barriers to work and need support to contact them. Individuals can self-refer by texting GREAT and their name to 66777 or by calling 0116 257 5020.

Our Changing Lives Together event was a success!

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On Friday 1 March 2019, we held our annual showcase event, Changing Lives Together, to celebrate the achievements of some of our participants both past and present.

The event was a huge success with over 100 registered delegates from various organisations across Leicester and Leicestershire. It provided all those in attendance with information about what the GREAT Project does to support the local community.

The project partners with Leicester City Council Early Help and Leicestershire County Council Supporting Leicestershire Families; both of which refer participants to the project. Both gave presentations at the event, providing an insightful look into how these partnerships work.

Following on from this, delegates heard from the GREAT Project’s delivery partners; Leicestershire County Council Work Club, Enstruct and Business in the Community. Each partner offers something truly unique, and the work the GREAT Project does would not be possible without their support.

The event finished with an awards ceremony to celebrate the accomplishments of some of the GREAT Project’s participants. Employment Support Officers (ESO’s) work directly with participants, and whilst every participant on the project is special, they were each asked to nominate a particular participant that excelled. Voluntary Action LeicesterShire’s Chair, Anil Majithia, presented each nominee with an award to commemorate their achievements.


Vandna Gohil, Executive Manager for the GREAT Project, said:

“Hearing from all the different partners the project works with really highlighted the fact that to change lives, we have to work together. By finishing the event with an awards ceremony, and simultaneously hearing the inspiring stories of our participants, we really let the audience see just how much impact the project is having in the community. Each journey is unique and inspiring.”

The GREAT Project gave a total of 14 awards during the celebration, and presented every participant in attendance with an award and certificate. In total, 10 participants had been nominated for an award by their ESO, and a further four were acknowledged for other special efforts they have made with the project.

A list of nominees, alongside their story, can be found below:

Shaik Faisal

Shaik Faisal first met his Employment Support Officer (ESO) with his wife, who spoke on his behalf. He had not long suffered a stroke which drastically affected his confidence, especially when it came to speaking English. Shaik has engaged with many of the support options available to him as a participant on the project, and he says he has seen an increase in his self-esteem. His wife reports she has also seen a change in him, as does his ESO. Shaik remains on the project and will continue to access support to help him achieve his goal of finding a job.

Khamis Maiouf

Khamis Maiouf arrived in the UK with his family two years ago. Whilst living as a civilian in Syria, he had faced physical and psychological challenges, and could not speak English. Khamis, who had low confidence at the time of joining the project, has accessed various support whilst on the project, including work club, behind the scenes tours and advice around self-employment. Khamis now has a positive outlook and wishes to progress to university.

Soma Ramazan

Soma Ramazan is a young adult living at home with her family. Soma’s family experienced a bereavement just before she was due to sit her A Level exams, and around the same time, her mother became unwell. Soma now acts as her carer, which has meant a lot of extra responsibility and additional time pressures at home. Soma accessed the confidence building course and has had one-to-one sessions with her ESO. Soma is now preparing to re-sit her A Levels and hopes for a career in medicine.

Tracey Bland

Following the death of her husband, Tracey Bland was left to raise three children with special needs alone. Despite her 21 years’ experience as an SEN teaching assistant, Tracey was looking for support to help her with her confidence. She felt she had no faith in herself but put her trust in her ESO and the project. Tracey feels the project has given her more confidence, and she now feels ready to apply for roles suited to her.

Leena Shah

Leena Shah, a mother of three, felt alone before she joined the project. She referred herself as she was looking to increase her job search skills and reduce her isolation. Leena has attended multiple workshops and courses, and is feeling more confident. She has a positive outlook and has shown sheer determination to better herself, and she now hopes to continue on this path and gain a qualification in maths.

Nickolette Robinson

Before joining the project, Nickolette Robinson felt isolated and suffered from severe anxiety. She says she had very low self-esteem, which negatively affected her motivation levels. Whilst on the project, Nickolette accessed various support and went on to accept a work placement. She excelled and was offered employment. Nickolette is now enjoying her job, and feels she could not have done it without the help of the GREAT Project.

Simon Gambardella

Simon Gambardella was dismissed from his last role due to ongoing health issues. This resulted in Simon suffering from depression and anxiety. Despite this, Simon’s attendance and commitment to the project was exceptional. He accessed a variety of courses whilst on the project, and it helped him overcome his barriers. Simon also found comfort in others who were experiencing the same challenges. Through the GREAT Project, Simon found a full time role that he enjoys and feels comfortable in.

Prafula Joshi

Prafula Joshi worked in sales for 30 years prior to joining the GREAT Project. Unfortunately, she sustained a serious head injury, causing her to suffer from short-term memory loss. With three teenage children, Pru worried she would be unable to find work. Pru worked closely with her ESO and with the help of the GREAT Project, Pru attended various sessions to overcome her barriers. Pru ultimately found a part time role in care.

Natalie Butler

Natalie Butler started the project with little confidence and direction. After receiving support from the GREAT Project and her ESO, Natalie began to flourish. She attended multiple workshops, and went on a behind the scenes tour at a popular high street store. The retailer was so impressed, they offered her a work placement.

Emma Harrison

Emma Harrison is a single mother of two, and felt isolated in her own community. She felt she had many barriers to work, and noted her confidence as a main issue. Whilst her original goal was to leave the project in search of a job, she actually found herself a role as a personal assistant. Emma’s confidence has grown, and she has since been elected as a local councillor for her area.

Overall, the event was a huge success, and it truly highlighted the impact the GREAT Project has on the lives of the local community. The project is accepting both self-referrals and organisational referrals, and encourages those that have barriers to work and need support to contact them. Individuals can self-refer by texting GREAT and their name to 66777 or by calling 0116 257 5020. Organisations are free to contact the project by calling the same number.