From the dark days of being made redundant during lockdown to earning her dream job with her beloved Wimbledon, Maddi Sweetman’s story provides a fine example of what can be achieved with a positive mindset.
In common with a lot of young people, the national lockdown left Maddi feeling downcast about her employment prospects, but she has certainly bounced back now after starting a job with our Foundation, thanks to the Government-backed KickStart Scheme.
Below is Maddi’s inspiring story of bouncing back from a difficult time.
Back in September 2020, we were in the depth of a pandemic and the whole country was experiencing something like never before. With job losses, businesses closing, parents becoming teachers and Zoom becoming the new WhatsApp, nobody had any security for their current or future self. For me, it was absolutely fine – how hard could staying at home be for someone with mental health issues?! Until September last year, I still had a job as a disabled child carer, working 1-2-1 with a young girl and her family to support them in the best way; a job that I had been doing for year years alongside other jobs.
In September, my job became redundant as it was no longer feasible at that stage in the pandemic. I then realised how hard staying at home was, especially for someone with mental health issues prior to the pandemic. I was actively looking for work in the next few months, but without success. I think I managed to write a different covering letter a day for two months on average! Dipping into my savings and with the best support from my parents I was able to get by for a while.
I don’t know what stopped me from going onto Universal Credit. Growing up it was always stigmatised and maybe this stopped me; the fear of judgement from others and the hopelessness if I couldn’t get by myself; it was a reminder of my anxiety and depression slapping me in the face. Come January, after sitting down with my grandma whose opinion I highly value, I decided I needed to go onto Universal Credit, and I began getting the support from them. Then I got another slap in the face – why didn’t I do this sooner!
Instantly after contacting Universal Credit, I was supported. I had a work coach Julia and I told her about my mental health and how it was a hurdle for me in every aspect – even being on the phone to her. She immediately calmed me. To this day I struggle with phone calls, but thanks to Julia and Emma I never dread a phone call from Universal Credit. Julia was so accommodating, and easy to talk to. I felt I finally had someone who I could talk to about finding the job that was right for me. She not only understood and listened, but heard and helped.
One month in, my Dad had seen an article from our football club, AFC Wimbledon, about a Kickstart job opportunity. He remembered me mentioning the Kickstart Scheme that Julia had mentioned and he forwarded it to me. It was surreal seeing a potential opportunity at my childhood club.
Kickstart is a scheme launched by the government and partnering with tonnes of employers to help get 16-24-year olds on Universal credit who are struggling to find a job. It offers at least 25 hours per week for six months with at least national minimal wage for the employee. It was launched to help during the pandemic. I saw it and thought instantly it was a dream opportunity. I contacted Julia who did everything she possibly could to ensure I was able to apply for this job. Julia went above and beyond in her job and things just felt so right and promising! I was accepted for an interview (again Universal Credit supported me) and I was offered the job the next day! I really believe that everything in your life happens for a reason and this just felt like living proof.
I couldn’t tell you how great I felt. Between me and my family we could’ve filled a swimming pool with tears! It was just what we had needed. After our own personal family issues we all needed a positive boost and here shone an opportunity I would take with open arms. I had supported the Dons home and away - and now I had a job coaching at the club!
Five months in and I’ve revisited a school that I went to in my first week. I met some of the same children and the enthusiasm and excitement when they saw me is a feeling I will never forget. I finally feel I have a purpose, and I have a passion for what I do. At the end of the same week, I had a phone call from my manager offering me a position at the Foundation permanently as a tailored apprenticeship to help form a future pathway into football for myself. I was beaming – all from taking that initial first step and contacting Universal Credit.
In my time with Wimbledon, I’ve been interviewed on Sky Sports about the launch of a Premier League scheme for defibrillators, as well as getting to hang out with Haydon the Womble! Now I have a stable job and already in six months I’ve actively, for the first time, seen my confidence boost (especially in public speaking) and seen what an impact each and every individual has on the lives of other people.
I have recently set up my own mental health page on Instagram (@sweeties.solutions) and I am hoping to get to some fairs and fates before Christmas to help promote and support those struggling with mental health. I would never have been able to do this before.
I still struggle with my mental health, I know how much of a long journey it is, and just how hard it can get, but there is always someone who can help and sometimes they’ll be in the place you didn’t expect it. Never give up and never jeopardise yourself for work – there will be another option suited to you. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s this: appreciate each day, don’t just work to live, use your time doing something you enjoy and take small steps out of your comfort zone.
The support I received on my journey has been phenomenal and I cannot thank AFC Wimbledon and Universal Credit enough for this opportunity and for their support. Julia and Emma from Epsom Job Centre showed me their continued support and enthusiasm. For anyone in the age category and looking for a career path or an opportunity, feeling lost or struggling for work, please, please, please turn to Universal Credit and consider their Kickstart Scheme. The people involved are honestly so helpful and supportive and they only want to help you climb that ladder and get your journey going.