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Getting back on track

March 14 2016
Peter has been able to move on with some extra support. © Eddie Ngugi for the Pavement Peter has been able to move on with some extra support. © Eddie Ngugi for the Pavement
Getting back to paid work is a hard road but it can pay off
Peter Whitnall had a flat and a job of 26 years. But when his employers sold up, he found himself unemployed. At the same time, trouble with other tenants in his flatshare meant he was evicted. He went from staying with one friend in Hounslow to another in Whitton. “I was depressed and I couldn’t stop crying,” he remembers. “Everything was grey. I’ve always suffered with depression, but never that bad. It lasted all day.”

Peter had trouble finding work. “Basically, I was thrown to the wolves. I had no qualifications, nothing that you need now. I had to start from scratch. My CV was one paragraph.”

So he was put in touch with Resco, a Christian organisation in London that helps people back into employment. They work with homeless people and those with criminal convictions, mental health conditions, or a history of drug and alcohol misuse – though you have to be three months’ clean at the start.

Peter worked for seven months in their furniture warehouse, learning about the removals trade. Resco provided travel costs, lunch, snacks and drinks – as well as work experience, help writing CVs, IT support, interview tips and a good reference. But it was tough going. “I’d do 12 hours, leave at half six or seven o’clock and get home at half eight. It was taking its toll on me and I was getting irritable.”

So when Peter was told the course had finished, his reaction was: “Oh, thank heavens!” But after a spell back on the Xbox, snacking and putting on weight, he was glad to hear of another Resco project, Trust Food in St Paul’s, where he discovered a passion for cooking.

A year’s volunteering at Trust Food secured Peter an introduction at Pret à Manger. Resco set up an initial interview and Peter was accepted onto their three-month apprenticeship, which aims to lead to a full-time contract. He tried out in the Waterloo and High Holborn stores, but the 5am starts and getting ID proved a mission. In the end, nothing came of the Pret opportunity and he was left feeling the whole thing had been pointless. Undeterred, he gained a qualification as a barista at another Resco project, the Kettle and Crust café in Hammersmith, and was referred on to House of St Barnabas, a charity that helps homeless people back to work, where he was asked how he’d feel about working in a hotel.

His interview at the Premier Inn went well. “It was the weirdest interview,” he says, “because I wasn’t nervous at all and we ended up giggling.” Back at House of St Barnabas, he learned that the interview panel had been in touch, saying they loved him (and his hair), but that they had to get the new chef’s approval. After waiting for weeks, finally Peter got the green light and started work in this January.

“Now I’m part-time at Premier Inn. Tomorrow will be my second week there,” says the 49-year-old. On £8.10 an hour, he’s worried about getting into arrears with his rent – his weekly hours have been increased to 20, which will affect his JSA and other benefits. Nevertheless, his advice to others is: “Go for it, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Go for it and don’t give up.”

“My depression made me feel worthless. I didn’t deserve to feel like that, and I’m a better person than that. Now I never look forward, I go day by day. I keep my head down and do as I’m told.

“When I’m put on a path, I’ll follow it.”


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