Ten years ago Bertram Henry, 48, from Manchester, suffered a breakdown. At first Bertram struggled with the breakdown and could barely bring himself to leave the house. Gradually things improved, and learning about digital skills and volunteering as a digital champion have been a key part of Bertram’s journey.
“During my breakdown period I didn’t go out the house much,” explains Bertram. “I was paranoid and anxious and the people close to me were very worried. I used to be really active and outgoing so it was a big change. When I was properly diagnosed they put me on some medication and gradually things got better. I still found it hard to get out and about but I could go and sign on and do bits and bobs.
“It was my advisor at the Jobcentre who said I should try a computer course to build my confidence and my skills. She suggested going to First Asian Support Trust at Longsight Library Online Centre, so I decided to go along and see what it was like. The first time I went in I was a bit worried. I wasn’t going out much and staying in all the time it was a big step, but I thought ‘I have to do this’. The atmosphere was quite relaxing, and I soon made some friends. Everything went from there.”
Now Bertram has completed loads of computer courses on Learn My Way, and got the certificates to prove it. As his knowledge has grown, so has his confidence.
“I found the Learn My Way website really suited me, and I actually picked things up quite quickly” explains Bertram. “I could learn about the things I wanted to learn about, and go at my own pace. I couldn’t type an email before and I didn’t know how to use Facebook. Now I can do all sorts of things!”
When centre manager Linda Malone saw how much Bertram was enjoying his learning, she suggested he become a volunteer digital champion, and share his new skills - and his enthusiasm - with others.
Bertram says: “I was very happy and chuffed that Linda asked me to be a volunteer and help others. At first I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to volunteer! I’d never done anything like this before. So they suggested I come down each day for a little bit to see how it works and I did! Now I’ve been doing it for nearly two years and I love it. I’ve fitted in with everybody, and it’s really brought me out of my shell. It helps me to be more like I used to be - more outgoing and talking to people. Doing this volunteering has brought me out of myself, and made me more active.
“When I think about how I was when I first came in, it’s such a difference. I was very quiet when I started, and a bit shy. I kept myself to myself and didn’t talk much. But gradually I got more and more confident, and then when I started to help others that really helped me too.
“I feel like I’m sort of back to how I used to be before my breakdown. And other people tell me that I’m back to my old self too. My daughter - she’s 19 - she’s really proud of how far I’ve come and that really means alot to me. Learning about computers and the internet and then helping others learn has helped me achieve that.
“I’ve found that I really enjoy helping other people - it’s exactly the type of job I’m looking for now I’m feeling so much better. My advisor at the Jobcentre is pleased with my progress and she’s helping me look into what I could do to get there - like a PTLLS course. I’m also going to work on updating my administration skills, things like presentations and spreadsheets. Things that will really help me get back to work.
“The fact is that things have changed so much over the last few years and you need to know the basics about computers and the internet to do most jobs. Even looking for jobs needs you to be online! I’ve certainly found it much easier since I’ve done the job hunting courses on Learn My Way.
“Digital skills are useful for life in general - and that’s what I tell the people I help. I tell them to move forward, one step at a time. Most people - especially older people - are happy with themselves if they go away having learnt something. But you have to help them over that block of ‘I can’t do it’ or ‘It’s not for me’.
“I don’t say ‘I can’t’ now. Because I know I can. I feel really positive. I’ve got that sense that something good is about to happen. I feel bright in the morning now, because I’ve got somewhere to go, and something constructive to do. So I’m going to continue on my journey, and continue to learn and grow.
Bertram concludes: “Now I’m happy with myself. I’m not down in the dumps anymore and that’s thanks to Linda and Learn My Way and Longsight Library.”