Bobby, former YMCA Norfolk client, has recently started working as a Chef at our Stepping Stones Café by Norwich bus station. We spoke to him about his amazing transformation from service user to staff member, and how he wants to be an inspiration to the YMCA young people he now works with:
“When I was 18-years-old I was kicked out of home because I had fallen into the wrong crowd, and became involved with drugs and drinking. I moved to the YMCA hostel on St Giles in 2005 – which was an 80 bed hostel at the time.
Two months into my stay at YMCA I was sent to prison for getting into a fight – but YMCA said they would save a room for me upon my release. When returning to YMCA Norfolk, Martin Rye (currently a YMCA housing manager), was made my support worker.
Unfortunately, I was still the same naive 18-year-old who thought I knew a lot more about life than I did. Due to repeatedly being caught with alcohol at the hostel, I was evicted eight months after my return to St. Giles.
I was on a downwards spiral and in 2007 I was sent back to prison for 90 days for a theft-related crime. Upon release, I met the mother of my child – and in May 2008 we had a little girl together.
Three years later, the relationship broke down. We were both still very young, and it became extremely volatile. It was a mutual decision that I left the family home, but I still had access to our child.
Following this, in May 2011, I ended up coming back to YMCA at St. Giles. However, this time around, I had a totally different attitude after having my daughter – she was now the most important thing in my life. I kept myself to myself and made sure I didn’t fall into the wrong crowd.
I did everything my support worker asked of me at the time. I engaged in everything I possibly could, including education and training; undergoing a stewarding/security course for two months.
If I could give one piece of advice to our current YMCA clients, It would be the importance of engagement. If you want to get the most out of the service, you need to be proactive and engage in what your support worker offers you.
The YMCA offers you a lot of opportunities, you need to take advantage of as many of them as you can. Grab education with both hands – because after 19 it isn’t free anymore! Maths, English, Sports, any subject – just grab anything you can, because it’s so important later in life.
I moved out of YMCA in December 2011, only 7 months after re-entering the service, because I was ready to move on to independent living. I was provided with a council flat, which was the first real sense of independence I had – I began cooking for myself and really taking care of myself. Suddenly, I had grown up. I saw my little girl once a week, and me and my former partner were on better terms.
I had a few qualifications, but not as many as I would’ve liked. So, I enrolled into a Catering course at City College in September 2012. It was a year-long course, and I felt like I had found my niche. Half way through my course I got a job at Loch Fyne restaurant on St. Giles as a chef. It was such a great job – everyone was really nice and friendly.
I’ve been a chef ever since. After six years of working evenings and weekends, sometimes 60 hour weeks, I was looking for something with more sociable hours. I saw the role come up at Stepping Stones, applied for the position and was shortlisted for an interview. I came in and had a chat with Julie (YMCA Norfolk Catering Manager) – which was surreal as she cooked my meals 15 years ago as a resident.
I was offered the position and I now work as a full-time Chef at Stepping Stones Café. Working sociable hours is a real luxury, I have my evenings and weekends back and get to see my daughter more often than ever. We can finally spend quality time together, rather than in-between shifts.
I was inspired to work for the YMCA after knowing what it’s like to be a service user. I know how difficult it can be, and working at Stepping Stones is the perfect balance of working in my industry at a chef, but also having interaction with our young people.
I’ve now been looking into part time Support Worker courses, because I’d love to be able to eventually give that support back to our clients. I want to inspire our young people not to make the same mistakes I made. It’s easy to fall on hard times, but everyone has the potential to turn their life around, especially with the help of YMCA Norfolk and their incredible staff.”