Brandon: I didn’t even know how to make coffee, age 21, but now I do!

It might seem like such a simple thing to most of us. For Brandon, making a brew for someone wasn’t just something he didn’t know how to do, if you’d have asked him he probably would have clammed up, and got worried about how to get out of the situation.

I’m really pleased to say that the Brandon I’m meeting today at FareShare Midlands in Lenton, Nottingham, isn’t like that anymore. OK, so full disclosure, I’ve just walked into the room where he’s been enjoying his lunch, it’s warm but he’s got his hood up in preparation for meeting someone new, and that’s fair enough.

A couple of minutes in though, and we’re sitting down at the table talking excitedly about the awesome logo on the can of (sugar free) energy drink he’s sipping on. It’s fair to say that Brandon likes the new version of himself, and even though he’s got the hang of making coffee, he’s in luck, someone else has just made me a cup.

Brandon’s been on quite a journey to get to this point, and even though we’ve just met, he’s keen to point out how it’s been a life changing one.

“After I left school, I didn’t really do well, I liked college but I thought I wanted a job more, because of my confidence and anxiety though, that was when it all fell apart, and I thought, oh great, my life’s done. At the time. I thought I’ve got nothing else to do. I was about 17 at the time, I thought that’s it. So I signed on, and I was on Universal Credit for, well, it seemed like years, it feels like it was a long time!”

That’s when Brandon found out about FareShare Midlands, who are a partner on the Nottingham Works 4 You employability project. FareShare Midlands are building on their overall mission to fight hunger and tackle food waste, by creating opportunities through their employability programmes. When Brandon joined the project, from that point on, his life really took a turn for the better. 

Brandon moves around in his chair, and plays with his hair nervously, saying; 

“I was always fidgeting back then and doing that, it was a nightmare. I came here and Lee Anne helped me get my confidence up, and now I’m here I’m much better than I was before, and I’m really enjoying it. FareShare have helped me massively with my confidence, and also speaking. I was always a quiet person, I didn’t really speak, but now I’ve come out of my own shell, and I can speak to other people.”

To me, the stranger in the room, it’s clear, and Brandon says as much; he wouldn’t have been able to talk to someone who’s come in here, just walked into his Thursday afternoon and stuck a microphone in front of him!

Lee Anne, Brandon’s employability coach, explains how FareShare Midlands have helped Brandon, as they have done with a number of young people since they started the employability project last April. As I discover, it all started where we began this story, with making cups of tea and coffee for people in the FareShare Midlands warehouse:

“We didn’t throw Brandon in the deep end, we practiced a lot, he had a notepad and had to write down my order and what I wanted. Brandon hadn’t been into the warehouse at that point so it was just to get him familiar with the environment.”

Brandon adds:

“I had to ask questions, to check if I’d heard [the order] right, or did I need to go back. That’s what I was doing. I had to ask for feedback and I didn’t like it, but I did it. They said they both enjoyed it, someone gave me a nine out of ten. It was just building little steps in my confidence, and then, I tell you what, I really enjoyed it. I’ve always enjoyed being here, coming here everyday, I knew I needed to do this more, so I thought to myself, everyday, I need to do this. I’ve got to do this myself.”

Fast forward a few months and Brandon’s had a lot of support from Lee Anne and FareShare Midlands, so much so that he’s found work, and he couldn’t be happier.

“It was the end of August I think, when I started here. We were going on the computers, just checking what kind of jobs were on there. I had to send CVs, I had support from Lee Anne, and I went to job fairs. That was a bit of a different experience, I spoke to a few employers, but they didn’t get back to me. I thought, I’m not just going to be waiting around, so I thought I’m just going to try more opportunities.”

That’s when Brandon heard about the Kickstart vacancy with the Canal & River Trust, he says;

“I liked it because I’m more of an outside person, so like that was beneficial for me, so I thought this is the one for me, one thousand percent! I start at 9am till 5pm but I have to get up at half past six, because if I don’t, my next bus is later and I wouldn’t be able to make that one. I have to get up early. It is tiring, but at the end it’s worth it because I’m actually getting up for something I’m enjoying. When it’s half six and I’ve just woken up, I’m like, oh no, but I’m also like yes, I need to go because it’s some thing I’m enjoying, I like it, and I get paid for it too.”

The final word goes to Brandon, before we fist bump in a covid-safe way, and say bye to each other;

“The people I work with are amazing, they just make me smile, it makes it for me. I’ve had to learn how to behave at work, what to say or not say, and follow the Canal & River Trust values, it’s taught me a lot. Working outside, in such an open area, there’s people coming past and asking questions, so it’s really good meeting different people. I really enjoy it. We started brick laying yesterday and it took us all day because we had to get the footpath out and put it all back in, it was hard, but it was worth it. It makes me feel good, because I can see the work I’ve done with my own hands, and I’ve learnt something that I haven’t done before.”

The Nottingham Works 4 You project is part of the Nottingham Jobs Service and is part-funded by the European Social Fund (ESF).