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Donna's Story 

USEL has not only changed my life, it’s gave me the life I’ve always dreamed of having, the life I’ve always wanted but never thought I’d actually have.

When I left High School, I went on to tech to do Art and Design but only 3 months into the 2-year course I had to give it up due to panic attacks and agoraphobia. For the next 14 years, my life was almost a blur. I barely left the house and only did so if I had an appointment and someone could go with me but to be honest 90% of the time, I would end up cancelling them last minute because the panic attacks where that bad. My mum ended up having to give up work in the end to be at home with me because the panic and fear was that bad. I couldn’t cope being on my own at all.

It frustrated me so much because I just wanted to be ‘normal’ and out working like the rest of my friends and family but the hold that my bad mental health had over me, I could never see a way of living my life any other way.

I was referred to the Condition Management Programme, and I did have a glimmer of hope but when I found out it was only a 12-week programme and I remember thinking 12 weeks was never going to change me. I was wrong. The support I got and the things I learnt about why I was the way I was, was enough to help me realise that I didn’t have to live in fear and panic for the rest of my life. The programme gave me strength to believe in myself and believe that with hard work and the right help and support, I could achieve anything I put my mind to.

I was then referred to a few different different programmes, which in their own way helped a lot. They got me out of the house and mixing with others. I gained a few qualifications and made some friends along the way. The journey I had on these programmes was more on a personal level, which looking back was a stepping stone I needed. But the programmes didn’t help when it came to even the thought of work. Even the word ‘work’ made me shudder with fear. Although I was making progress with small everyday living situations, I still felt like I was stuck and never going to be able to be that ‘normal’ I wanted to be.

I didn’t give up however! The feeling of knowing that I was the only person that could change my life, the only person that could make me happy, just pushed me on. I hadn’t just spent the last 4 years on different programmes for it to be wasted.  Yes, I was frustrated that I wasn’t where I wanted to be after all this time, but I wasn’t where I was when I started all this either. Great things take time, one small step at a time. It just makes you more determined to make sure your next step is the right one for you. And USEL was my next step.

What can I say, after my first phone call to USEL with Paula, I sat and cried… happy tears! For the first time I felt like I was going to get my ‘normal’.

Paula was so easy to talk to and in time I found out that everyone else I would be involved with would be exactly the same. So friendly and caring and very genuine, things that mightn’t matter to some but make a huge impact on me, I knew I was in safe hands.

USEL was amazing with the courses they offered, from confidence building and mindfulness right down to dealing with stress caused by the pandemic and remote interviews. There were also courses on preparing you for work, which I found very interesting. It helped answer a lot of questions that I didn’t even realise I had. They also had a job club, which when I first heard of it, it absolutely terrified me but not for long. Maggie who delt with that side of it was amazing. It didn’t take her long to turn my fear into a little excitement. Maggie tailored everything to my needs, yes, she wasn’t soft on me, but she gave me encouragement and assurance and just that little bit of a push that I needed, in the right quantities without scaring me off.

Pauls and Maggie worked with me like I was the only one there. It is very clear to see that USEL isn’t just a job to them, the support they give you and how much they believe in you is amazing. You aren’t just another number, they truly want what’s best for you. I have never known anyone who goes above and beyond the way they do for their participants.

After only a few short months on USEL, and a lot of conversations between myself, Paula and Maggie (and me not feeling just so scared) they got me a work placement in a wee shop that I had wanted to work in for years. To my surprise, on my very first day I didn’t have a panic attack, not one! The 6-week placement went by so quick. Almost too quick, but to my surprise I was then offered a 4-hour contract at the start of December. I cried. Id done it. After years of working on myself, pushing myself and my mind to the limit, id actually just got myself a job!!

In February I cried a little more, with happiness of course, when I got offered 10.5 hours a week. And the one thing that kept me going through all of this (not just Paula and Maggie) was knowing that when I got into work of at least 10 hours per week, I would be able to move onto the USEL Workable Programme with Paula supporting me on it. This was something that no other programmes I had ever been on offered and was always something that I knew I would need if I was ever was able to work. The workable programme is there for as long as I need the help and support from Paula, and that has been a great comfort and made my whole working experience so much more stress and panic free.

In April a chance arose, and I was offered a 16-hour permanent contract with key holder as well.

I couldn’t recommend USEL enough to anyone, no matter what you are going through. The whole team is absolutely amazing and hand on heart, you will never work with anyone who wants to help you the way these guys do. After years and years my dream has finally came true, a dream I never thought would happen. And I will be forever grateful especially to Paula and Maggie who helped me make it come true.

Thank you.

Oh and  as for the feeling ‘normal’, I’ve realised there’s no such thing. I still feel the same only with a bit more confidence and content and a lot less fearful and panicky. Never ever let yourself feel like you are not ‘normal’, You are ‘YOU’ and that’s a pretty special thing to be!

Williams Story 

After 25 years in production management, I found myself out of work for several years due to an injury which was causing spinal deterioration. I knew I wanted to get back into employment but was unsure of what and how. I knew I could not go back to full time work in a such a physically demanding job.


I found out some information about the STRIDE program online and got in touch with Christine who became my Employment Services Officer. During my time on Stride I was able to focus on improving my confidence and workplace skills. I completed courses such as Personal and Social Skills and gained an award in Employability skills and Health and Safety in the workplace. I worked closely with Christine and Danny to seek employment opportunities through regular job clubs with other STRIDE participants. I also worked on improving my interview skills.


After 5 months on Stride, I successfully gained a part-time position in The Range and have now been in employment for 7 months. The part time hours are less physically demanding which means I am able to manage my condition whilst still being in employment.


I would recommend the STRIDE program to anyone with a disability or health condition as it offers great continued support and opportunities.

John's Story 

They call me a survivor, although I was not involved in a car crash, bomb explosion, or some natural disaster. I did, however, have a stroke. And for that, I'm eternally grateful to the medical staff, the stroke rehabilitation people and, not least, Usel, the Ulster Supported Employment Ltd.


Survival was touch and go on June 15th, 2018, when I collapsed at work after suffering what I now know to be a 'left temporal lobe hypertensive haemorrhage'. It is every bit as scary as it sounds.

I was in the Royal Victoria Hospital Acute Stroke Unit for a week. I will be on medication for the rest of my life.

The consultant told me that, with a little luck, I would be "back to 95% of what you were in two years".

He was more or less correct.

In another couple of months, I will have been back at work for two years.

The thought of returning to the workplace – the scene of the initial drama – filled me with dread as the recuperation period was coming to an end.

It was then that I got in touch with Usel, who send Richard, their employment services officer, to look after my interests.

I think it was one of my best moves. Over a series of meetings, Richard helped put my mind at ease.

What I particularly liked was that he listened a lot before he wrote anything down. I got the impression he really wanted to fully understand the needs of his ‘client’.

There then followed a series of meetings with my employer’s human resources people which Richard attended with me. This gave me confidence to ask for the sort of phased return to work which would suit best and, to be honest, it was Richard who did most of the talking on my behalf.

I was more than happy with what was arranged and, over the course of a couple of months, I went from short term attendance at work to back to normal.

During that time, I had several private meetings with Richard, which I found therapeutic. He wanted to ensure that I wasn’t being rushed back too soon to full-time employment, and he also kept in touch with the company’s HR representative though a series of catch-up meetings.

The upshot was, I am enjoying being back at work; the circumstances which I believe led to my illness are no longer prevalent and I’m feeling fit both physically and mentally.

I cannot thank Usel, and Richard enough, for all they did for me during this difficult period in my life.

Jeremy's Story 

Hi, I’m Jeremy, I have been struggling with depression and anxiety for several years relating to PTSD.  I was finding it difficult to find suitable employment within the right environment and work that I would enjoy that would not cause me further stress and anxiety.


I was introduced to Usel's STRIDE project in December 2019 which provided me with an opportunity to engage in training, helping me to build my confidence and to develop my employability skills.  I was also provided with support to source suitable employment and in June 2020 was successful in gaining part time role working as an IT Support Assistant within Usel after successfully completing a job trial.


I have routinely struggled with low moods and the move into employment was a big change which I found it difficult to acclimatize to. Throughout the whole process I have been provided with continual support from my Usel Employment Services Officer Colin and my work Supervisor, meeting with me each week to discuss my progress and to provide support with any difficulties that I am experiencing .  I have also found the reasonable adjustments put in place at an early stage of employment have helped me to settle in and be able to cope with the move into work life.  I am now feeling more confident in my own abilities and am feeling more positive about the future.


To date, within Usel I have achieved accredited qualifications, a job role that suits me, with hours that I can cope with. I feel that I have become more assertive, am better at self-care, have met lots of new people, made friends and have the chance to be productive.  As I continue to develop within my role, I can now apply coping strategies which I have acquired through the STRIDE project and my time at Usel.

Zoe's Story 

After leaving school I went to train as a Hairdresser.  I decided after 2 years in this area of work that I wanted a complete change as I struggled to keep up with course work and assignments.  I knew I liked looking after people and talking to people, so I set about applying for jobs in my local area with the help and support from my Aunt.

Getting started in my first paid job at the local nursing home happened, by me just visiting the home and asking if they had any vacancies.  I completed the application form with the help from mum and went for an interview.  I was successful and started my employment at the Nursing home with the knowledge that I would be trained up as a Care Assistant.

With the encouragement from my mum, I had always been open about having Dyslexia but throughout my school life and secondary education I felt that this pigeon - holed me as having a learning disability, which kept me back, affected my confidence and self-esteem.   I would have got upset very easily and become emotional, always staying safe by staying in the background. 

Now as an adult I know that Dyslexia is a “specific learning disability” that impacts on the skills needed to read and write fluently.  It does not affect overall intelligence but does meet the definition of a disability and therefore is included within Disability Discrimination legislation.

I would describe my own experience of dealing with Dyslexia had greatly impacted my ability to read and write fluently, I found that I was stronger using verbal conversation, and learning by practical demonstration and repetition to learn new skills or following a process. I have throughout my life always had to learn how to rework a situation to get to the same outcome.  This I feel has given me the additional ability to think creatively which is one of my key strengths when working with the elderly.

Unfortunately, in 2017 I was diagnosed with severe depression which was brought on by losing my mum to Cancer and having my first baby.  I felt despair, worried for the future, lonely and isolated.  I relied a lot on my mum to support and help me navigate through day- to -day life and now I was left without her. 

At that time Workable NI was a new programme that offered support to adults who had a disability within the workplace.  I was introduced to Eleanor, an Employment Support Officer from Usel.  The initial meetings were informal and friendly. From these conversations Eleanor was able to identify barriers that I had and was experiencing due to dealing with Dyslexia.  Eleanor explored how Dyslexia was impacting me within the workplace and outside of work as well.  I was able to talk confidentially about situations that were causing me to stress or feel overwhelmed.

Eleanor arranged face to face meetings with the Nurse in Charge at the Nursing home and we opened up discussion on my day-to-day tasks and the areas that required accuracy of reading and writing skills.   I was happy and that my work colleagues knew that I have Dyslexia as I have found them extremely supportive and understanding.  Additional time was allocated in work to support me through any internal training or time taken to explain a policy or procedure to me verbally.  I encourage anyone who is dealing with this type of disability to have this approach as there is a lot of support and help that can be put in place within the workplace to make your work life much more accessible.

I found that the Nurse Manager at the Nursing home was very understanding and had liaised with my Employment Support Officer to see how my work environment could be adapted.

  Through regular meetings and support of the Employment Support Officer and my colleagues at work I have been able to keep my e-learning up - dated at work. Regular contact with my ESO helps me to discuss and navigate any issues that I may have.  In the last three years I have completed my Level 2 Health and Social Care qualification which is something I would never have put myself forward for.  This qualification was supplied by Rutledge Joblink and delivered in a flexible manner to fit in with childcare and work needs.  This qualification has been achieved by the advocacy, encouragement and support from my ESO and Programme Tutor.  Without this mentoring I would have stayed unqualified and not have had the confidence to go for it.  Having regular catch - up meetings during the month, action planning and goal setting every few weeks has brought me to an unrecognisable stage that I could not have seen 3 years ago.


Jordan's Story 

In November 2020, I unexpectedly became unemployed. I have suffered with anxiety and depression for many years, therefore, these change of circumstances alongside the ongoing pandemic were detrimental to my mental health. After signing on to the Jobs and Benefits centre, my work coach soon informed me of the STRIDE program and how helpful she thought it would be. Soon after, I spoke with Paula an Employment Services Officer who gave me some information about the program in order to make a decision. I immediately felt completely comfortable talking with Paula and she gave me the upmost confidence that they would be able to help me get back into work as soon as I felt comfortable to do so. Following this I met with Maggie, my Employment Engagement Officer, Des and Lesley, who were providing training courses ranging from employability to anxiety management. Due to the pandemic, all of these courses were provided online. I found each one of the courses that I completed extremely helpful. In January 2021, I had found a job that I was interested in and Maggie helped me through my application form. Once my application was successful Paula, Maggie, Lesley and Susan all helped me prepare for my interview. My anxiety immediately sky rocketed once I found out that I had gotten an interview. Although I was struggling, it somehow felt easier to manage as I felt like I had such a strong support system through USEL. Maggie and Paula met with me through video call on a regular basis and challenged me with a mock interview. Their kind words and caring nature improved my self-esteem and made me feel confident about myself and my abilities going into the interview. I received a phone call the next morning offering me the job. The STRIDE team has assured me that they will continue to support me through employment as long as I need it. I would highly recommend this program to anyone who feels like they need some additional support getting into employment. The team has helped me turn my life around in such a short amount of time; I am overwhelmed with the support I have received and am eternally grateful to each member of the team
Long's Supermarket - Derry/LDerry 
Longs have had a long standing relationship with USEL with over 25 years of working in partnership together.  Usel has been an opportunity to support young people to get into workplace, and to continue the support once they have been placed in employment.  We have had people placed with us through various programmes within Usel and most of these people are still in our employment 20 years later.  In recent years we have had the benefit of support to employees who struggle with health issues, both physical and mental, so that they are able to stay in the workplace and limit the time spent on sick leave.  This in practical terms also benefits the company as well as the people being supported.  The relationship we have developed over the years with Usel has also been beneficial from the point of view that they are able to provide a more personal and comprehensive support service than we could ever implement ourselves, with immediate access to much sought after therapies which normally have long waiting lists if sourced elsewhere.  We appreciate and value their services and  expertise very much and hope to continue to work with Usel for many years to come.
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