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Navigator Developer Jen based at Forest Upcycling Project shares her experience on how she supported one of her GEMs back into work.

"When I first met Steve, I felt overwhelmed by his story, so I cannot begin to imagine how it was for him.

In 2017, at the age of 28, Steve had a series of full seizures, these terrifying experiences led to being told he had brain cancer. The tumour was removed but some was wrapped around his right-side mobility cord. So, Steve emerged from 10 hours full awake surgery with limited use of his right side, in particular his arm and hand. Steve went from being a full time working agricultural engineer, deer stalker, fisherman and outdoor enthusiast to being a disabled person, stuck at home trying to come to terms with the enormity of the changes in his life.

Steve was referred to GEM by the Forest of Dean Community Wellbeing Service. When we first met, we chatted about his interests and passions – the great outdoors, wildlife, the Forest and photography. It was clear to me at this stage that thinking about jobs was premature; Steve needed time to adjust and rebuild some confidence and self-esteem.

So we walked and talked a lot! The Forest was our workplace and Steve has shared with me his knowledge and love for everything wildlife most generously. We both agreed it was important for Steve to keep connected to his real passions. I applied for a Barnwood Trust grant for outdoor clothing and they generously awarded Steve £300 which we spent on walking boots and shoes, clothes and other outdoor equipment. I also introduced Steve to FVAF and the Foresters Forest Project and the Walking with Wheels (WWW) mobility project – Steve is the volunteer photographer for the WWW publicity materials and a regular litter picker for the Love Your Forest team.

Steve was referred by his GP for exercise on prescription and was supported at the leisure centre gym in Cinderford to improve his fitness. He lost weight and has increased the mobility in his right arm. Steve has been determined and dedicated to getting himself as physically well as possible. He has had regular check ups and scans and currently is cancer free which is amazing. He is desperate to get his driving license back soon so he can buy an adapted car and really get his independence back which will open up even more opportunities for him.

Over time Steve played around with ideas about returning to work; always hard for him to find a balance between what he would like to do and what he is able to do and at times very upsetting for him to consider. He recently contacted his old boss at Wye Adventures who has now been able to start up his canoe hire and adventure business following the lockdown. He offered Steve a role which includes meeting and greeting customers, preparing the canoe equipment for hire, sanitising the gear and generally helping out.

I asked Steve what the best things were about getting a job, he said “being able to work again; the camaraderie and banter of being part of a team.”

It has been a privilege and an inspiration to work with Steve. Being back at work has really lifted him, given him more purpose and confidence. Proud of you mate!!"

A massive thank you to Jen for supporting Steve with his GEM journey. 

Steve's determination, bravery and support from Jen helped him overcome one of life's hardest challenges and find work

by Nikki Davies