Nathan builds on volunteering success to join school team

“I was really excited when they offered me the job. I was a little bit nervous at first but I decided to give it a go. The staff helped me get used to the new job by giving me some trial shifts in the summer holidays when the school was quiet.”

Like so many young people, Nathan from Coventry finished college with little fanfare during lockdown. Back at home bored and without routine, he retreated into his PlayStation.

Nathan wears a black jumper and holds his award certificate as he stands next to the Lord Mayor, an older man with glasses, grey hair and beard and gold chains of office.
Nathan receives his Lord Mayor’s Award for Volunteering from Cllr John McNicholas.

So Mum signed him up to Accelerate with Grapevine, a programme specifically designed to find disabled people fulfilling work that lasts.

Nathan, who is autistic, didn’t want to be stuck indoors either. He wanted to be active, experience work and get to know more people. And that’s where his journey guide Suzie Crowter came in.

After receiving training on job searching, CV building, writing a cover letter, applying for jobs, interview skills and some mock interviews with Suzie – and a few real interviews with expected nerves! – Nathan secured a volunteer role at St Francis of Assisi Church in Radford, Coventry.

There he became an asset to the team, undertaking cleaning duties in their St Francis Employability team, doing a great job and making friends.

In fact, he did so well he was awarded a Lord Mayor’s Award for volunteering in April this year. But the story doesn’t end there – it gets better!

Nathan has successfully found a paid position as a cleaner at Ernesford Grange Community Academy in Coventry, commutable by bus and working for an organisation that is inclusive, supportive and flexible in helping Nathan to settle in and work effectively.

Nathan, a young man with closely cut brown hair wears two lanyards and a crossbody bag as he stands in front of a purple Ernesford Grange sign inside the school. He is smiling on his first day.
Nathan on his first day at Ernesford Grange Community Academy.

He says: “I enjoy my job because I like meeting new people and getting the job done. My colleagues are supportive, friendly and kind. It’s good to get paid for what I do.”

Unfortunately many disabled people don’t make the transition from volunteer to paid employee, often due to a lack of reasonable adjustments on offer.

Suzie says: “I have been really impressed with how accessible and inclusive the staff at the academy have been throughout the whole recruitment process. Right from the start, the interviewers made Nathan feel welcome.

“They have been very flexible, including letting Nathan choose his own hours and work days.”

Together they created a document for the school to outline some of the challenges Nathan might face and small changes to overcome them. Like a timetable, a quiet space to take a break and different points of contact who can help with questions.

School business manager, Tracy Willis, said: “Nathan is a good listener and has proved to be an asset to the cleaning team. He is well respected and has become a valued member of staff.”

Nathan’s story shows how volunteering can be an important step towards getting a job, helping build to skills and confidence and developing your CV.

Accelerate is a Building Better Opportunities employment support service offered by a network of organisations across the city and county, managed by Coventry and Warwickshire CDA and funded by the European Social Fund and The National Lottery Community Fund.

It forms part of Grapevine’s #StrengtheningPeople strand of action, alongside Sparking Community and Shifting Power.

Accelerate sets out to find disadvantaged people – in the case of Grapevine, disabled people – meaningful, sustainable employment with inclusive employers. Find out more here.

Read Michael’s story of growing his own gardening business here.

Watch Libby’s Accelerate primary school journey here.