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Solid crew

March 14 2016
Michael at work. © Connection Crew Michael at work. © Connection Crew
Michael and Jamie tell us their experiences of fitting back into the world of work

London-based social enterprise Connection Crew is a ‘crewing company’. Its main job is providing crew members to do everything from stage building to sound engineering for events and corporate bookings. Around 25 per cent of its crew have experience of homelessness – including Michael, who took part in the Connection Crew Academy’s pilot programme last year. Carinya Sharples met him.

Every day is different. This morning I had to help fashion designers move fashion racks to different offices. Last week we did a huge event where I helped erect a stage. I did set design and builds, and put up 80ft screens. Then there was an event at the ExCeL [national exhibition centre] for online gamers, where we had to break down a set build. With a lot of jobs, we don’t know who we’re going to till we get there.

I found out about Connection Crew through Crisis. Their goal is to help homeless people to help themselves with all the resources they have – including classes, support and women’s services.

I came back into the country last year. I went from a hostel to temporary quarters – I had to go through the process, not rush things. And it was worth being patient.

By October, I was at a point where I was looking for a job, and Crisis held a jobs fair. Before you go, they have a kind of workshop where they go through what interviewers are looking for and what to say in an interview.

When Connection Crew made their pitch, I thought: "Hey, that sounds like something I’d like to do". I went in the next day for pre-screening – to make sure it’s really something I wanted to do – and started a week after. There were two weeks of [practical] training [and eight weeks’ training on the job] so we could learn exactly what they do, and afterwards they said to me, “We like what you did. We want to take you on”. It’s a flexible job in the sense that it’ll never be the same hours, which is good and bad. They call you and see if you’re available for a job.

They’re not expecting you to have experience. However, this job is physical, so you’ve got to be able to handle that – one stage we build with aluminium, another with steel, and, man, is that heavy!

I’ve now transitioned to my own place, I like the area – it’s very convenient and there’s everything I need nearby. I knew I would get there but I just wasn’t sure when.

To someone who’s in the position I was, I’d say make sure you have the essentials: ID and a National Insurance number – everything else is workable. If you’re in a predicament, if you feel it’s not working on your own, there are many organisations who can help. Why not give it a try? It might not be that you need new skills, someone to tell you how to go about it in a different way.

The Connection Crew Academy  is a 10-week training programme for people with experience of homelessness. Charities currently working with the Academy include Connection at St Martin’s, Crisis, Restart, Cardinal Hume Centre and St Mungo’s. If you want more information, contact The Connection Crew?Academy is open to applica?tions from 2–20 May 2016.

Jamie's experience

Jamie Fallon, 49, apprentice at Brigade and Plateau, tells Sirena Bergman how following his heart has brought him contentment and purpose.

A few years ago I was living with my partner and working as an antiques dealer in north London. It was only when I watched my sister die of cancer that I began to really think about my life, and realised I was unhappy and had to do something different.

Without going into too much detail, I had psychological problems, which affected my relationship and meant I had to leave the flat I shared with my girlfriend. I found myself with nowhere to live, sofa-surfing and eventually living back home with my mum in my 40s.

Luckily, I realised I needed to start helping myself, so I sought support and was assigned an excellent key worker who really made me question myself. When she asked what I wanted to do with my life I basically reeled off my CV telling her about my sales background. She was so insightful, saying: “It’s great you’ve told me what you can do, but what do you love to do?”

The only thing that I could identify enjoying was cooking, and when I was offered the opportunity to go on a one-day course at the Brigade, through the Beyond Food Foundation, I was happy to give it a go. This turned into a three-week course, which I loved, followed by a 13-month apprenticeship, which I’m currently seven months into.

When I first started work I was still getting a feel for it, but I immediately recognised that cooking was something I loved. Early on I was working quite close to the pass, and got to see my plates come back clearly having been enjoyed – it’s an incredible feeling.

So far, I’ve had the opportunity to work alongside a Michelin star chef, and I’m starting the second part of my apprenticeship working at Plateau, a four-star contemporary French restaurant in Canary Wharf.

For me it’s been an incredible opportunity. I’ve discovered a passion for food, which combined with my love of aesthetics and borderline obsessive precision makes this the perfect role for me. It’s truly life-changing to be able to go to work every day and feel like you’re putting love and creativity into what you do.

Since starting work at Brigade, I’ve repaired my relationship with my partner and we’re living together again. She said even my worry lines have disappeared! While in the?past I was always concerned about having no security to retire or make changes in life, I’m now so content in what I’m doing that it doesn’t really matter.

If you’d asked me six months ago what the ideal future scenario was, I would have definitely said I’d like to start my own catering company, perhaps doing healthy, delicious food for parties for example. But now I’ve realised that I really enjoy working for chefs I admire, and I’d like to go as far as I can perfecting my skills in French cuisine.

Brigade offered me a fantastic opportunity, but it’s more than ?just the food: it’s the discipline,?the community and the getting up every morning to be at work on time because people count on you. That’s what’s made the real difference to me, and it would to a lot of people.

A number of different organisations offer training to people with experience of homelessness. Try:

LONDON: Cafe from Crisis in East London provides (unpaid) training in food hygiene, customer care, operational services and food preparation skills: www. programme.html

EDINBURGH: Crescent Kitchen provides (unpaid) training opportunities through its sister organisation The Broomhouse Centre: www. projects/cafe-training/crescent- kitchen/