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How mentoring helped Mary achieve her green dreams

17-year-old Mary’s struggles with anxiety left her feeling uncertain about her future, but she was certain that she wanted to pursue her dream of working in sustainability and politics. With the help of our mentoring and employment team, Mary was quickly snapped up for an apprenticeship with the City of London’s Cleansing and Gardens Team and is well on the way to achieving her green dreams.

17-year-old Mary grew up in nearby Shirley with her Dad, a Palace fan and matchday steward at the club, so Palace was always going to play a part in her life. She began working with us back in October 2023 after struggling with anxiety and a sense of self-doubt. She left college, and whilst this was right for her to do, her choice to leave education left her feeling a different kind of pressure to find a job.

This feeling weighed heavy on Mary and left her feeling hesitant about what steps she needed to take in order to pursue her real passion: sustainability and politics. Whilst participating on our GAME ON programme, which aims to set young people up with the skills needed to take the next steps in their career, she met Eimear who felt Mary could benefit from taking part in our mentoring programme. Shortly after, they were paired up as mentor and mentee.

Mary and Eimear meet every Thursday at Selhurst Park for their mentoring sessions

Mary meets with Eimear every Thursday afternoon at Selhurst Park. Their weekly sessions together typically involve conversations around confidence building and the introduction of tools to help with navigation through day-to-day concerns. One standout concern for Mary was how she would go about getting work experience that aligned with her interests in sustainability and politics.

As the pairs sessions progressed, Mary expressed her desire to get experience in her chosen field, so, with the help of Tom, who leads our GAME ON programme, she was introduced to Norwood Junk Action, a local non-for-profit who organise community litter picks and transform them into art instillations, and started to volunteer for them.

The efforts between our employment and mentoring teams in collaboration with Norwood Junk Action were a success on all sides: giving Mary the chance to take ownership of tasks in her chosen field, as well as Norwood Junk Action who hired themselves a passionate volunteer.

Things were looking up, but there were still some obstacles in the way. Mary’s new irregular schedule, fresh expectations placed on her and the added responsibility of caring for a new puppy felt overwhelming at times as she still sometimes doubted her own abilities and needed the odd reminder that she was very capable of achieving her goals. With these reminders, her self-doubt was beginning to take a back-seat.

Eimear was determined for Mary to continue to build on the progress she made, but wanted to ensure she was also making time for herself within her new schedule. The next step for Eimear was to highlight the importance of setting time aside for wellbeing and activities that make her happy outside of her volunteering responsibilities. She helped to instil the belief that activities like exercise, self-care and personal well-being are vital to maintaining positive mental health and critical in order to avoid burnout. Eimear worked with Mary to create a weekly timetable, which combined her new volunteering commitments as well as her personal downtime activities like going to the gym, getting her nails done and looking after her new puppy. Breaking these elements of her life down into bitesize chunks helped Mary to place equal value on both her professional and personal responsibilities.

A crucial part of our mentoring programme is to provide practical support in the amongst a variety of difficulties facing young south Londoners in 2024 – the continuing cost of living crisis, the little-known after effects of being in education during the pandemic, and a drop in opportunities for local employment to name a few – but a large chunk of the work we do with mentees is to offer regular encouragement and a listening ear. In Mary’s case, one of the most useful ways to build her confidence were reminders of everything she has already achieved, like her speech to local students she presented for Norwood Junk Action.

Late last year, Eimear supported Mary in drafting a speech for a presentation that was to be delivered to students at a local college about a volunteering project she’ll be leading in south London with Norwood Junk Action. The project she’ll be spearheading involves organising regular litter picks in the local community and the design of an instillation surrounding the theme of mental health. Despite her natural nerves, Mary breezed through the speech and was over the moon with how it went.

With Mary now on a roll, she felt a lot more confident to interview for a sustainability apprenticeship at the City of London, a role she applied for a week before her Norwood Junk Action speech. Eimear supported Mary in her interview prep; providing positive encouragement and challenging her self-doubt. In Eimear’s words: ‘”You just delivered a brilliant presentation to school last week, you can smash this interview!”. But really, it was all Mary’s doing as she was promptly offered the role. Tom, who we mentioned earlier, also played a huge part in offering the practical support needed for this type of interview.

We spoke to Eimear who is delighted with how far Mary has come even though she’s only half way through the mentoring programme:

“It’s been incredible to watch Mary’s confidence and resilience grow as she’s progressed through the programme. She’s shown real determination and a willingness to confront her challenges.  She’s worked incredibly hard and should be extremely proud of her achievements.”

Her new role with The City of London is in The Cleansing and Gardens team who are responsible for the upkeep and cleanliness of the city’s streets and the management of its green spaces. Part of her role will be to will be to coordinate volunteering activities and promoting the city’s biodiversity action plan to volunteers and the wider public.

Mary says the support and techniques offered by Eimear are helping her to believe she can reach her dreams despite her anxiety. Helping her to learn how to work with and manage her anxiety, instead of it being something that holds her back. Even though she has achieved so much already, Mary is only halfway through the programme, so her mentoring sessions are still ongoing for the next few months. Mary started  her apprenticeship in February and Eimear will continue to support her throughout her journey. We can’t wait to she what she gets up to next.

For more information on one to one mentoring, head here, and for more information on education, training and employment support, head here.

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