Staff at i2i Walsall are taking a new approach with their ESA customers – by inviting them to monthly coffee mornings.
More than 30 customers have attended the coffee mornings since they were launched by i2i’s Donna Wakelin in May, and so far the feedback has been excellent.
Not only do the sessions enable customers to share advice on gaining work, but they also help customers to boost their confidence and social skills.
Sarah Andrews has suffered with mental health problems for several years, but despite spells at the Priory clinic in London, the mum-of-four says she has made more progress at i2i than at any other stage in her life.
Sarah said: “I hit a low when I couldn’t even bring myself to go outside to empty the bins. My children were literally running the home, but I’ve made so much progress at i2i – thanks to my adviser Donna.
“When you go and see a doctor, you have a 15 minute appointment, and when you go to a psychiatrist, you get a 45 minute slot. With Donna, she really makes you feel like she has all the time in the world.
“I’d have paid good money for the help Donna has given me. She’s been like a guardian angel.”
Pic: i2i Adviser Donna Wakelin (centre) with customers at the latest coffee morning.
Sarah now attends i2i on an almost-daily basis, where she has recently been doing some voluntary work.
Sarah said: “It’s given me a confidence boost and I feel like I’m finally getting a bit of self worth back. If I wasn’t here, I’d just be sat at home in my pyjamas staring at four walls.
“I’ve always wanted to work and I constantly beat myself up about being a sponger, which isn’t a nice feeling as I’m a very proud person. So it’s great to be back in a meaningful routine again.”
After four years out of work, Janet Wilkes has also benefitted from the coffee mornings, which she says have inspired her to return to work.
Janet, who suffers with arthritis, said: “The coffee mornings make things more personal. We’re not just coming to i2i because the Government says we have to. It’s also an icebreaker and because we’re all in similar positions, we can help each other.
“Donna has given me the confidence to come out on my own, the confidence to look for work. And that’s all because she’s an ESA success story in her own right. She really is an inspiration.”
i2i Adviser Donna Wakelin, who is a former ESA claimant herself, said: “I’m so pleased with how the coffee mornings have been going, and I really hope it’s something we continue to do in the future.
“It’s been a starting point for so many people, and it’s actually a confidence building session without the customers even realising it. It’s also a chance to meet with other people and to see things from their perspective – because when you’re ill, you often feel like you’re on your own.
“I know that every single person who has attended will say they have benefitted in one way or another.”