Martina’s story

From client to volunteer

Martina in our charity shop

Martina moved to London in 1994. Her three children are almost all grown up now, but caring for them as a single mum left her outside the job market for many years. Almost three years ago — struggling to pay the bills — Martina came to the Centre for welfare advice. Not long after her first visit, Martina ended up securing both a volunteer position at the Centre and paid employment!  

Tell me about your first encounter with the Centre

I didn’t feel judged, instead, I felt like it’s a family. It’s such a good atmosphere at the Centre. I had problems sorting out my benefits, which was why I first came here, and Jenny who helped me was very competent and experienced. Then I heard that I could also get help with finding a job here, and thought that’s brilliant!

I had stopped working after my first child. My eldest was 19 at the time; my middle one 15; and my youngest 12. Once my youngest left primary school, I had more time, but the Job Centre told me that I would never find a job due to the long time I’d been away when bringing the children up.

Still, I really wanted to find work. That’s how I met Sarah, an employment adviser at the Centre who helped me with CV writing, using the computer and looking for jobs. I had a really old CV and I didn’t really know how to make it better. Sarah helped me a lot, and she also told me about the possibility of getting work experience working in the Centre’s charity shop. I started volunteering and loved it. I liked being in contact with people and loved being on my feet. With all this support, I ended up finding a job in a supermarket where I’ve been working for almost two years now.

Why did you continue volunteering at the Centre after you got paid work? 

Because I really like it, and because I want to give back. I used to volunteer two days a week in the charity shop originally. Now that I have found a job, I come once a week. I always look forward to coming to the shop. I get on really well with the other volunteers and have learned a lot from the shop manager, Jay. She is patient, knowledgeable and I still value her advice and encouragement.

If you could put it in a few sentences, what’s the biggest difference between your life now and before you came to the Centre?

It’s a relief not having to worry about money anymore and knowing how I will pay the bills by the end of each month. I also have a more positive outlook on life now, and I definitely feel more confident. I am not scared about going back to work as I was before. I have met some really nice people, too, and made new friends. I didn’t plan all of this when I first came here, I didn’t know about all the different services at the Centre. Without help, I wouldn’t really have known how to tackle it all.

I also think it’s good because you give your children a good example: it’s good for them to see that you’re doing things; that you’re active. They see you happier, and, obviously, if you are happier, then they are happier, too.