My new life as a Skills Tank Learning Mentor


Tantalising bright lights of the big city lured me away from Birmingham to London aged 20.  After all, I’d just finished catering college and wanted to conquer the world!

This craving for the big city life was soon overcome by the reality of working long hours just to pay the rent!  Then, unexpectedly an opportunity to move further south came about.  There I stayed for 20 years working my way from a humble waitress up to hospitality management, from country pubs to contract catering in big corporates.

But, there was always this niggling feeling that something was missing.  As the years flew by it grew and grew.  Eventually, 4.5 years ago, I took note and moved to Tamworth looking for a change.  That change came about when I joined Care First to open a Skills Tank in Tamworth with a catering bias.

And now;

That niggling feeling that’s haunted me for years, it’s gone – I’ve found where I’m meant to be and I love it.  Do let me explain.

I’ve shot up a steep learning curve, yes, I’d worked with some challenging people (unreliable, lazy etc.) but not adults with learning difficulties, learning disabilities, behaviour that challenges, mental health and autism.

Being a Skills Tank Learning Mentor is no easy task, believe me, there are no typical days, there are challenges, often unseen, they can come thick and fast (especially around a full moon).    You can have all the daily session plans in the world, everything planned to the last dot and within an instant, it’s all gone out of the window. Backup plans are a necessity and thinking on your feet is essential.

As soon as a Skills Tank student walks through the door they are part of the “Tamworth Team”.

They may not have achieved much before but with me, they will achieve.  With my team, I will find their potential because they all have it in them somewhere, limiting thoughts or beliefs are not allowed in my team.

Now, during the last four years, I have been arrested twice and put in a police cell once!  Why? To help take away the fear of the police, to help our students, venerable adults to understand police procedures and to see that the police can help and will help them.  It’s all part of a partnership we’ve formed with Staffordshire police to help the venerable adults we help and support.

I’ve supported students at alcoholics anonymous sessions, been in court, dressed in a Pudsey onesie to deliver sandwiches and become a gardener. My team and I have stood with students outside Morrison’s collecting money in the freezing rain for rotary because they wanted to help others.

We’ve taken cakes, jams, chutney’s bird boxes, planters and more, (all that they’ve made) to fairs and fetes, taken part in street dances and Zumba.  Learnt about football and steam trains – not a women’s thing really. Oh, and I’ve been thrown across the car park of John Lewis (the less said about that one the better!!!).

I’ve sat and laughed with the students, mopped up the tears over another broken heart, calmed many volatile situations down and been the most emotional and the proudest person at the back of the room at presentation ceremonies and at high tea afternoons put on for parents and carers.

I’ve become a big sister and surrogate mum rolled into one. My garden has turned into a woodwork convention and my waistline as chief taster expanded more than I care to admit, does it worry me? No, I love it!

For years seeing people enjoy the food I’d cooked was pleasing but working with adults with learning difficulties, learning disabilities, behaviour that challenges, mental health and autism being part of their growth is beyond satisfying, way-way beyond.  My life now has a purpose, a passion, a reason.

Why? Because the students I work with are incredible, they change I can’t do it into I’ll have ago.

In the last four years, I have seen these wonderful young adults blossom and achieve. We have:

  • set up a coffee shop
  • a sandwich delivery service across Amington Industrial Estate
  • catered for and served the mayor and judges of Tamworth
  • regularly provided buffets at functions for the community
  • worked with the wildlife trust helping the environment
  • worked with Mencap to renovate a garden.
  • collected money for charities (nearly £2,000) to help people with greater difficulties
  • taken students, by train to The Good Food Show at the NEC
  • gone bowling
  • taken bus trips to support community events
  • a stall at the big fairs and fetes in Tamworth
  • started to raise money for ‘Have a Heart’ to pay for and install a defibrillator

Our adults with learning difficulties, learning disabilities, behaviour that challenges, mental health and autism have achieved so many positive things.

Of course, I wouldn’t be able to do my job without the support of a team. They too are as dedicated as I am.  I’m aware of the exasperated sighs they give every Monday morning when I announce “guys I have had a thought over the weekend of another project we could do”… but without fail they back me up and go with the flow no matter …..

Has my job changed me? I think it has.  I have become very passionate about life and certainly very passionate about my job. I have learnt:

  • to listen to three conversations at once and still be able to answer them all.
  • that no matter what problems I have these students go through so much more daily.
  • when a student is having a meltdown, it is not personal and nine times out of ten they are unable to control it.
  • achieving the smallest task for them is like me running a full marathon.
  • to expect the unexpected.
  • that just by saying the words ‘well done’ can mean so much.
  • these students can teach us and society so much given the chance so why don’t we let them?
  • to control this powerful urge to stand on the rooftops and shout with such passion and pride “look what we have achieved” it happens most days.

Don’t get me wrong all our days aren’t perfect but after a challenging one, we dust ourselves off and start afresh because the good days massively outweigh the challenging ones.

I must say, when I agreed to write this for Rob our marketing man I didn’t expect I’d feel so proud, so emotional (happy tears) and so glad I listened to that niggling feeling of dissatisfaction and changed my career path, change my job again – no, never and that’s final!