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Author: AideenBlackborough

The Secret to Self-Respect

Posted in Employment Support, Flyinglady Training, Personal, and Uncategorised

One of my favourite TV Shows at the moment is The Secret Millionaire on Channel 4.  After a long day, I love to watch as the latest millionaire leaves behind his comfortable lifestyle and goes in search of people in need of help.

I’ve recently watched a repeat episode which particularly struck a cord with me.  It featured John Elliott, a self made millionaire and life long supporter of the Conservative Party.  John travelled to Kensington, Liverpool which is an area known for high unemployment.  He desperately wanted to find people in need of his help but this proved difficult.  Why?  Because as he looked around, there was no shortage of jobs available for people to apply for.  The high unemployment rate wasn’t down to a lack of jobs – they were there in abundance.  John met various residents of Kensington but none of them seemed in desperate need – the state were taking care of their basic needs.

It seemed like John would be the first Secret Millionaire not to part with any cash.  He was reluctant to give away money unless he was sure that it would make a real difference.  Then he met a young couple with a baby.  They were up to their eyes in credit card debts and living in rented accommodation.   The husband was working 12 hour days driving a taxi to pay off his debts and provide for his family.  He didn’t come home until he’d earned the money he needed.  Though struggling and in debt, he wasn’t afraid of hard work and was paying the price for racking up so much debt.  Finally, John had found a family that he could help.  But he didn’t do the obvious thing and pay off the credit cards.  It would have been all too easy for them to just build up further debt.   Instead, he gave them a deposit for a house of their own.  They could get a mortgage and finally start enjoying the rewards of working hard.

John also befriended a young refugee who had been granted leave to stay in the UK.  He was a qualified accountant but despite his best efforts, he couldn’t find employment and so spent his time volunteering instead.  John decided to help him but not with a hand out.  He gave him a job in his company.  This gave him so much more than a handout – it gave him his confidence and self-respect.

I had to admire John’s approach.  He didn’t want to find problems and then throw money at it.  In his mind, that was pointless and a waste of money.   Although he had over £60 million, he didn’t want to see his hard earned fortune wasted.   He wanted to enable people to solve their own problems and give them their self-respect in the process.

I also agree with John Elliott’s stance.  In my time supporting disadvantaged people into employment, I saw many people who were desperate to work.  If I’d given them a handout, they wouldn’t have accepted it.  I also saw an equal number of people who were fairly comfortable on their state benefit and so had little interest in “rocking the boat” by finding a job.  If they did look for work,  they were only interested in jobs for less than 16 hours a week so that they could remain on state benefit.   But this approached failed to give them any pride or the self respect which John valued and rewarded.

The programme inspired me and made me more determined than ever to develop Flyinglady so that we can eventually set up employment support programmes to help people who really want to find work.  I think if there were more John Elliotts around, encouraging and supporting people to stand on their own two feet,  we could reduce the JobCentre queues.

My Winning Founder Story

Posted in Disability Awareness, Employment Support, Equality & Diversity, Fighting for Change, Personal, Starting Flyinglady, and Uncategorised

I recently entered a story writing competition with the Entrepreneur’s Circle about why I founded my business.  I am delighted to say that I won the competition – my submission follows:

I was suited and booted and ready to impress.  It was my second year of my Business Management degree at Oxford Brookes University and my third year would be spent on a paid work placement.  I’d managed to bag an interview with a small marketing company near Oxford and the job sounded perfect for me.

The interview went really well and I came out feeling fairly confident – this could be the one, I thought to myself.  A few days later my confidence was in tatters as I read an email from the MD of the company.  He stated quite bluntly that he couldn’t possibly employ me as his clients wouldn’t be able to communicate with me.  Why? Because I have cerebral palsy and subsequently, a speech impairment.

He hadn’t faulted my skills or my abilities compared to other candidates.  That was his one and only reason for rejecting me.  I was fuming!  I know my speech isn’t that difficult to understand as I successfully communicate with people on a daily basis. I knew I couldn’t just let this go so I sat down and composed a polite reply.   I told him it was a shame he felt the way he did as he’d dismissed a huge asset to his team.  I continued that there were many ways of communicating with clients and that if every employer were to have his views, I would sadly remain unemployed.  My aim wasn’t to get him to change his mind but to educate him.

The experience made me realise the extent of discrimination that disabled people face and I knew I wanted to do something about it.  I eventually secured a placement working for a charity which supported disabled and disadvantaged people into work and training opportunities.  It was a rewarding role and upon graduating, I returned to the charity and became a senior manager.

But still the discrimination was apparent.  One day I took a phone call from an unemployed client looking for some help.  He had the cheek to ask me why someone like me with cerebral palsy could secure a job whilst he remained unemployed!

As my role developed, I undertook a qualification to become a trainer and I started delivering sessions to both clients and employers.  I realised that far from being unable to understand me, people responded really well to me and I had a talent for teaching.  I was able to share my personal experiences and inspire others. I felt comfortable and confident in the classroom.

Being a small charity, I eventually felt there were no more opportunities for me to develop and I was bored in my role.  I always embrace a challenge but I was no longer being pushed to my potential.  So I took a leap of faith, handed in my resignation and Flyinglady Training was born.

I now specialise in Equality and Diversity Training, as well as employment preparation training and although I only started up in January, I’m passionate about making a difference for other disabled people who may have had similar experiences and also helping employers to realise the benefits of a diverse workforce.

“Mum, why is that lady in a wheelchair?”

Posted in Disability and kids, Disability Awareness, Disabled Parent, Equality & Diversity, Flyinglady Training, Making a difference, and Uncategorised

“Mum, why is that lady in a wheelchair?”

It’s a question I’ve overheard being asked by innocent kids hundreds of times.  The child looks quite weary of me and I pretend not to be listening as Mum quietly explains I have something ‘wrong’ with my legs.  Or that my legs don’t ‘work’ properly.  Mum is a little embarrassed whilst their little one remains unsatisfied.  These hushed conversations always make me smile.  None of the answers given offend me and I understand Mum’s embarrassment but I sympathise with the child’s curiosity.

As a child, I experienced bullying at school on a number of occasions.  Nothing too serious but it was bullying all the same.  At the time, it hurt although I tried to rise above it.  As an adult, it’s easier to understand why these other kids picked on me.  They simply didn’t understand why I was different, nobody had explained disability to them.   For unless children grow up with a disabled sibling or relative, it can be difficult for them to understand why someone is disabled and how they should react to disability.

And it’s these experiences that have inspired me to develop my Disability Awareness for Children Sessions.   Equality and Diversity are now vital issues in every workplace and it’s important that children, particularly teenagers, are given the opportunity to explore these issues before they enter into employment.  The sessions provide participants with an opportunity to ask me any questions they have and dispel some of the myths which still surround disabled people.

I recently provided one such session for a group of teenagers who were hosting a sporting  event for a number of people, many of whom had disabilities.  The group weren’t particularly fond of classroom sessions, much preferring to be outside so I was a little apprenhensive about holding their attention.  I need not have worried.  The group were very attentive and I was later told, it was the most engaged they had been in a classroom for a long time!

Their tutor said:  “Aideen delivered a fantastic session that focused very much on an interactive session.  The feedback was fantastic…and they learnt alot about working with others with disabilities.”

To find out more, please visit Flyinglady

The Elephant in the Room

Posted in Equality & Diversity, Flyinglady Training, and Uncategorised

Last week, I returned to my previous employer to do some “STEPS” employment training.  The course is aimed atunemployed clients who have a disability and it is quite a basic introduction into employment covering their rights and responsibilities under the Equality Act, preparing to return to work, how to prepare an effective CV and preparing for interviews.

I always start each course by explaining that if anyone has difficulty understanding me because of my speech impediment, I don’t mind repeating myself.  I appreciate that if someone hasn’t met me before, it can initially be a bit of a challenge to “tune in”.  And I really don’t mind repeating myself – I always sense when someone is pretending to understand!

At the end of the course I asked the clients what they thought of the course and if they had any feedback for me.  Although the feedback was very positive about my ability as a trainer, a few of the clients commented that they found it difficult listening to me and it would be better if I worked with another trainer.  Obviously, being self employed that isn’t really an option, at least not at the moment.  As I made my way home, I pondered the issue.  Why hadn’t the clients stopped me and let me know they were having problems understanding me?

“It’s the elephant in the room,” my husband said later, “nobody wants to be the first to say anything.”  I tried putting myself in that situation – would I be brave enough to be the first to raise my hand and say I didn’t understand?  Would I want to potentially embarrass somebody I didn’t know?  Probably not.  My husband had hit the nail on the head – to avoid this happening again, I’d have to draw attention to the elephant myself and perhaps use a little humour to deal with it.

However, although the majority of people don’t have a problem understanding me, I have taken the feedback seriously and as well as dealing with the elephant head on, I am going to look at ways of cutting down my presentation “speak” and using other materials a little more.

It’s in the family

Posted in Equality & Diversity, Flyinglady Training, and Uncategorised

As a child, my parents ran their own cleaning company and built up quite an empire.  Dad always told us, “You never make money working for someone else!”  He would spend his sundays doing staff rotas and every other evening changing them again!  There was always something to be done but with hard work and commitment, came success and a comfortable lifestyle.   These days, my Mum runs a party business and both my sisters run successful businesses.  Being an entrepreneur really is in the blood!

I’ve seen first hand the challenges and triumphs of being self employed – it’s no easy option.  The monthly pay slip brings far less hassle – it’s certainly nice to clock-off at 5.30 and have no worries, other than the office politics of course!  But just like my family, I have never shyed away from hard work and hence why I have decided to set up Flyinglady Training & Consultancy.

It took me a while to work out what I really wanted to do.  And then I was given the opportunity to do a PTLLS course which is a qualification to teach adults.  As the course progressed and as I began delivering training, I realised I was happiest in the classroom – helping people to realise their potential.  Giving them knowledge and insights.  Challenging their perspectives.  And challenging myself.  Every learner and situation is unique – no one size will ever fit everyone and that’s the point of Flyinglady Training.

It won’t try and sell an off-the-shelf course unless it completely meets the clients requirements and the exact same course won’t be delivered twice.  Customers will get a training package which is specifically designed to meet their needs and it will be constantly reviewed.  If the approach isn’t working, I’ll find a new approach to meet individual needs.

It won’t be a 9-5 job, but what fun would that be anyway?!