Andrew's Story

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Andrew Wilson, 49, is a receptionist at The Edge, the University of Leeds’ sports and physical activity centre.

With over 13,000 active users every month, The Edge is the busiest university gym in the country.

Andrew lives in Holt Park in Leeds. He has a visual impairment. 

Pluss delivers Work Choice, the Department for Work and Pensions specialist disability employment programme. Work Choice receives funding from the European Social Fund for customers referred to the programme prior to 25th April 2017.

Andrew’s words               

“The job includes meeting and greeting clients, payments for classes, general enquiries and bookings for the range of sports played here. This is both face to face
and over the telephone. I also respond to emails and refer various issues to the duty manager. It is a very busy job. 

“This is a good job for me as I have a real interest in sport and have participated in sport for a number of years. I feel that my skills are front of house; talking to people, and giving accurate information clearly and precisely. I enjoy meeting people so it is the ideal job for me. Also, I am a resilient character which is important as there are times when we are extremely busy. I just keep going and never give up.

“The reception team here is made up of 26 people. We are a good team and I get on very well with them. They are one of the best teams I’ve ever worked with; very helpful and supportive.

“I am partially sighted and legally registered blind. I had optic nerve damage due to an accident when I was six weeks old so it’s all I’ve ever known. It means I find it difficult to find my way around unfamiliar places and access information. However, when I am in familiar surroundings I am absolutely fine. I use a number of visual aids at home and work; I wear reading glasses, and have a magnifying glass and a monocular for reading street signs. Using these allow me to live independently on a day to day basis.

“I have many years experience in administration and reception roles. I was working for the NHS but after three years the contract ended. I was out of work for two and a half years and I did a lot of soul searching. I spent a long time looking for work. It didn’t feel good; you lose your self worth and self esteem.

“I applied for several hundred jobs during this time. I had a number of interviews but the consensus was that although I came across well I lacked experience; it was so demoralising. I did get the feeling at times it was because of my disability although I never knew this for sure.

“Because I was on benefits I could quite easily not have returned to work but I really wanted to work, not just for the monetary side. It goes back to having that self worth and self confidence; about being someone, being part of a community and a team. All of that is extremely important to me.

“In November 2015 I was referred to Pluss and they gave me really excellent help – they helped me to identify my skills and job goals. I also attended many short courses such as developing interview and job seeking techniques, and confidence building. I had regular one to one meetings with my Job Broker who helped me look for the right jobs in the right places, go through application forms and prepare for interviews.

“It absolutely did help my self confidence. It helped me evaluate what I was doing. It was also very helpful speaking to others who were in the same position – to gain experience from them and pass mine on. The whole process was an extremely worthwhile and valuable exercise.

“When I got the initial phone call to tell me I had got this job I was absolutely elated. I couldn’t believe it. The assessment day was quite an intense process so I was really pleased with myself.

“It feels like getting a job is one major hurdle that I have overcome. It’s not just getting the job though, now it’s about keeping it. I genuinely enjoy this role and what I need to do now is ensure I am up to their standard and do the best I can. When I get through the probation it will be another major hurdle overcome.

“Pluss will be here to support me through the next six months. There will be regular meetings, help to get Access to Work funding for large screens and other equipment, help with getting working tax credits and also regular reviews with Pluss, Robert (my Manager) and myself.

“I feel a lot more confident about myself. Being in work has increased my self worth and general demeanour. The fact that I have money coming in and that I can tell people I am in work and have a job. I am more confident with people and it feels very good not claiming benefits.”

Robert Henriques, Head Receptionist, The Edge (University of Leeds)

“Andrew applied for the role in the normal manner. I had a vacancy for two reception posts and Andrew put in an application. Our recruitment process is tough. It involves inviting candidates in for assessment where they partake in group and individual exercises in the morning, and then we choose which applicants to invite for interview in the afternoon.

“On this occasion, we invited 19 people to the assessment day, took 12 through to the afternoon session and employed two people at the end, one of whom was Andrew. He did really well.

“Our recruitment process is fair and thorough; it’s all about the overall scores achieved. However, what I liked about Andrew was his quirky character and he had a certain humbleness about him. He had also done his prior research. He came in to check the facilities out and asked questions. He had obviously taken a lot of care with his application. All of this is testament to how much he wanted the position and I very much appreciate that.

“Andrew has been with us for four weeks now and had three weeks of intensive training. It’s a really hard role to learn as he’s at the forefront of all manner of queries in a ridiculously fast-paced environment. It’s a big role and I think he found it a bit overwhelming initially but he is really starting to settle in well.  

“What I like about him is his enthusiasm, positive attitude, and his willingness to learn and pick up the pieces. It helps that he likes being in a sporting environment. As he settles, it’s nice to see his confidence gradually coming through and we are beginning to see his personality come out. He is also involved in some of our upcoming social activities.

“When it comes to recruitment, I’m only looking to appoint staff on merit, if you can meet the needs of the job then you will get the job. Many people can interview well but not be right for the role so we have changed the way we recruit to get the staff we need.

“I am aware of what I need to do as an employer so I ask what staff might need from me and I am confident to make any adaptations. We sat down with Andrew (alongside Occupational Health and Health and Safety) to see what his needs were and how we could support him. We asked Andrew if he would be willing to disclose to the rest of the team so they could understand his needs. He was happy to do this.

“Not all of Andrew’s equipment has arrived yet. He has a manual palm size magnifier for printed work and we’ve got built in accessibility software so he can negotiate around his screen. We’re also looking at specialist software and wide screens which we will install in the three main areas that he works so he can use the booking software. All this will help Andrew settle further into his job.”