Arsenal in the Community

“We had never seen him so happy”

John from the Elthorne Park estate was lacking focus when he first came to us, and it took years for him to fully engage with our Employment Programme – but perseverance on both sides eventually paid off.

John* was 15 when he was referred to the Employment Programme during his final year of secondary school. He had struggled with education and was likely to leave with no or few qualifications.

He was enrolled on a course for three hours a week, but by his own admission he had “a lot going on in his life’” and was unable to take advantage of the support he was being offered. He regularly brought his girlfriend to the pre-employment sessions, but they spent a lot of the time arguing with each other and John was distracted.

He agreed that he wasn’t ready for the course, but he was encouraged to come back as soon as his life was more stable. It was a full 12 months later when John reappeared at the Hub, suggesting he was ready this time having left full-time education, and so he was signed up on our three day a week programme. However, his attendance was sporadic and he was frequently late on the days when he did turn up. He was called most days by the Education staff and encouraged to keep attending – a message that was further reinforced by the Kicks staff as he was a regular participant in the football programme at Elthorne Park.

After a few months he was offered part-time work with the Emirates Stadium catering contractor on matchdays and although he did a few shifts it was obvious he wasn’t fully committed. At that stage John was persuaded to enrol on an Arsenal residential programme to undertake the Three Peaks Challenge, something the staff believed might motivate him and give him some renewed purpose.

John was woken up at 5.30am each morning and joined the rest of the group walking and climbing the peaks. Although he was often difficult and unfocused in the Employment Programme, Jack Ferguson says, “I really couldn’t have had a better student on that trip. Not only that but made sure that others got through that experience. One of the other students really struggled and if it wasn’t for John I doubt they would have got through it”.

The staff made sure he knew how proud they were of him and told him he’d convinced them he could make a success of his life. “I told him that he had made my job so easy and thanked him for it,” says Ferguson. On the way back to London John went into the train manager’s office and offered him some food, something the staff said he would never have had the confidence to do previously.

When he returned John felt more positive about himself and picked up additional work in catering. Then, just when staff thought he was on the right track, there was a setback: he started taking it easy, he got his own flat but couldn’t keep up with the rent and so needed a full-time job, which he wasn’t able to secure. He carried on attending the Kicks programme in Elthorne Park but cut off regular contact with the Employment team, suggesting he had too much going on to think about work.

Then a few months later John reappeared and said he was ready to resume his job search. “He was much more enthusiastic and positive this time, so we set up three appointments and he made them all, and on time,” says Ferguson. “Then a hotel chain called and said they had vacancies for porters and when John said he was interested we sent off his CV and set up an interview. He went for the interview the next day and he was offered the job. He insisted the contract was sent to Arsenal. We had never seen him so happy and excited. Within eight days of seeing him again he had a full-time job, even though it had taken us years to get to that point.”

Not only are we always there, we never give up.

*Not his real name

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