April Blane has made rapid progress since taking her first tentative steps in the charity retail sector. By her own admission, the 23-year-old was lacking confidence and unsure what the future held when signing up for the Government’s now-defunct Kickstart scheme and joining East Anglia’s Children’s Hospices (EACH).
It was at the start of lockdown and the scheme, intended for those at risk of long-term unemployment, provided funding to create jobs for 16 to 24-year-olds on Universal Credit. With nothing to lose, April joined EACH’s shop in Poringland, just south of Norwich, and duly became the charity’s first-ever Kickstart recruit.
Thankfully, she impressed from day one and her career has gone from strength to strength ever since. Within three months, she secured a position as Sales Assistant at EACH’s Wymondham shop and now she has been appointed part-time Relief Support Manager, covering other shops in the area, including Bungay, Long Stratton, Poringland, Bowthorpe and Unthank Road and Aylsham Road, both in Norwich.
“I’d been looking and applying for jobs without having any luck, before being told about the Kickstart scheme,” said April.
“I was determined to give it a go, especially as the shop was close to where I live. I had nothing to lose. However, I’d never worked in retail before, so was a bit nervous. At the time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was quite unsure and not very confident, but thought I had to give it a go. Now I’m so glad I did.
“To be honest, I felt comfortable from the start. Even during my interview, I had a strong feeling that I really wanted the job and would enjoy it. It was such a warm, welcoming, supportive and caring environment. I couldn’t have asked for better people to work alongside.
“The volunteers were great, too, and I just felt happy because I had a structure to my life which gave me routine and stability. I had something to look forward to every day, which was such a positive feeling.
“I absolutely loved it. I learnt so many new skills and my confidence soared.”
April had always been aware of EACH and its work supporting families and caring for children and young people with life-threatening conditions. She knows families that have accessed its services and lives around the corner from The Nook.
“I appreciate what an enormous difference it makes,” she said.
“It was a charity I knew well and that helped me feel connected from the start. To now work for it is an amazing feeling and I definitely feel I’ve found my place, working in this environment.
“As I say, I didn’t know what I wanted to do three years ago and, for various reasons, was lacking confidence. I had a brilliant upbringing and very happy childhood but during my time in high school I was badly bullied.
“I left secondary school to join the Red Balloon Learner Centre (which offers educational and well-being support for students missing from school because of bullying), where I made amazing friends and got my confidence back, also gaining my core GCSEs.
“I moved to Dubai with my family to work within a school as a one-to-one learning support assistant and I was there two years before moving back to the UK in 2018.
“I found a job as a care assistant but left when my family moved home and then the pandemic hit, so things were tough until being given this wonderful opportunity.”
April made an instant impact in Poringland and jumped at the chance to apply for a permanent position in Wymondham. Unsurprisingly, after impressing in her interview, she got the job and has now been part of the team there for 18 months.
“I was sad and apprehensive about the prospect of leaving, so very happy and grateful to have been given an opportunity to stay,” she said.
“I feel settled and, since joining on a permanent basis, even more opportunities have come my way. Everything has snowballed. First, I was offered some overtime, helping cover other shops in the cluster, and then I managed to get a promotion and permanent contract, whereby I now spend two days a week being Relief Support Manager.
“It’s a bit more responsibility and lovely that I’ve been trusted to take on this role. It’s nice to meet all the different volunteers and lots of different people, which is lovely and one of the main things I like about the job.
“I also learn a lot from seeing how different shops do things – to see how they display things, to see what works and what we can do differently in Wymondham. Everyone has their own ideas and it’s nice picking up tips and making observations on my travels around the area.”
April has gone far, very quickly. She says work has given her self-esteem, stability and a sense of fulfilment that she was craving at the start of lockdown.
“I’m very happy and also extremely grateful, because I never thought I’d get this far, this quickly,” she said.
“When I first started, I thought I’d be back to square one and looking for a new job when my six months were up. I honestly didn’t expect these opportunities to come along so I’m very grateful.
“I’m also very thankful for the support I’ve been given. It’s been lovely and I definitely feel that the charity and people around me have my best interests at heart.
“I couldn’t think of anyone better to work for. It means so much and has really given me a confidence-boost.”