Sheffield Online Centre helps volunteer Sharen rediscover her zest for life

02 May 2017

After suffering various physical and mental health problems, Sharen Mathers was unemployed and had lost her way. But thanks to an employability course at a local Online Centre, she secured a voluntary position and began helping out at their ESOL classes - and it’s given her a new goal and a new outlook on life.

Sharen, 43, from Sheffield, says: “I’ve worked ever since I left school. I was a qualified care assistant and then I left that to pursue my dream of working on the Sheffield trams. I worked there for two years but I became poorly and ended up having to go part-time. Eventually, I had to leave altogether.

“After I left, I found out that I had two slipped discs and arthritis in my neck - that’s why I was in so much pain. Being so ill and unemployed eventually made me very depressed. I didn’t know what to do; I was crying all the time and I was in a right state. I’d ask myself what my goal was and I just didn’t have one.”

Employment skills

Sharen decided to attend a Steps to Excellence course at local Online Centre Zest for Work - part of the Department of Work and Pensions’ new form of employment support, Journey to Employment, which they trialled in different locations around the country. It’s designed specifically for people with a health condition who would like to get back into work.

Sharen explains: “The course gave me answers and turned my life around. It opened my eyes and made me feel like anything was possible. As part of the course, my advisor suggested we set up 16 hours a week doing voluntary work and that’s how I became a volunteer at the centre.”

Zest wanted Sharen to help out with their ESOL classes. Initially, her tasks involved giving out worksheets to learners or setting up the classroom, but her tutor was quick to recognise her abilities and gave her more responsibility.

“One day the teacher asked me to help her with delivering the class,” explains Sharen. “She asked what kind of things I thought we should be teaching to the learners.

“I quickly went from photocopying papers to sitting with little groups of learners and working through the course materials and activities. I also helped them out on the computers when they came in to search for work or do little pieces of learning online.”

Confidence building

Sharen loved helping out with the ESOL classes and being given responsibility for the learners helped with her courage and determination.

“It’s built my confidence back up,” says Sharen. “Even just sitting with the learners has helped because the first time I was there I had to stand up and introduce myself to them. The more I was with them, the more familiar I became with them - I learned their names and I could picture them all. After a while, I felt confident enough to just go up to them and talk to them.

“I can honestly say that I feel a hell of a lot better in myself. Everything that I’ve done has made me a lot happier - just getting out of the house and enjoying where I’m going and what I’m doing.”

Looking to the future

Sharen now feels so confident in herself and enjoyed volunteering so much, she’s been able to secure two days paid employment per week at Zest for Work and is further developing her skills.

“I’m starting a course in May - the PTLLS teaching course - which I’m really looking forward to. It’s something I’ve never done before and will be a great addition to my CV.

“I’m also helping out with learner recruitment for other programmes that we’re running at Zest. It’s a big responsibility and it’s great for my confidence to know that the centre has that faith in me. Once I’ve completed my course, the world’s my oyster. Who knows what kind of opportunities might come up - either at Zest or elsewhere.

“When I lost my way, I was like a zombie and I kept asking myself what life was going to be like now. Because of the Steps to Excellence course at Zest for Work and the volunteering opportunities they offered me, which led to my two hours of work per week and the PTLLS course, I really do feel like I can do anything now.”