My name is Tom. I have autism, which will never change. Now however, that ever present worry that I will fail at every difficult obstacle that comes my way has been proven wrong, and I can’t thank Citizens Advice Isle of Wight, the Bridge to Work program, the Wheatsheaf Trust and Eleanor Flanders in particular for helping me reach this new and exciting stage of my life.

I find myself at a loss for words when trying to explain just how much this program has helped me and improved my life. When I was first referred to the Wheatsheaf Trust, I had only recently began receiving Employment and Support Allowance and my Work Coach at the Job Centre wanted me to join a volunteering group to prove my willingness to work and improve my situation.

It was quickly established that I had extremely low expectations of myself that were thankfully countered by the high expectations of my mentors. Right from the start, every time I saw Eleanor she would mention a new opportunity that she was chasing for me, however she would usually return with the same excuse from most companies – that because I had no previous work experience, they were hesitant to give me a chance. This changed when Citizens Advice Bureau Isle of Wight arranged for me to work for them as an administrator. It sounded too good to be true – a job that involved working on a computer and avoided me having to interact with an ever changing amount of people.

I started volunteering on 6th November 2018, and I have not missed a day of work since. The employees and volunteers were all extremely friendly, very welcoming and supportive of my efforts to join them. I received regular feedback from CAB that they were happy with the level of work that I was doing, and that they would be happy for me to move into the paid placement position that was originally discussed. I was given increased responsibilities, like being asked to draft and later write letters to various companies and organisations as well as verifying and updating the information on the online directory called IsleFindIt. I was tasked with researching a variety of local Island based companies and reaching out to them via letter to see if they would like to donate. More recently, I have been handling some of the administrator duties for the Housing related advice team.

When the Bridge To Work scheme ended on 07/07/19, I was immediately hired by Citizens Advice on 08/07/19 to be a full employee rather than a supported placement – I had done a good enough job that they had acquired funding specifically for employing me. I never expected that. I was officially employed, had an actual job with responsibilities and was valued by the team I was (and still am) working with.