(Originally posted on Tumblr in early 2016)

The past 2+ months of my life have been amazing & life-changing, and that’s all thanks to the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust ‘Get On Track’ programme.

Well, maybe I should start from the beginning.

My name is Hannah. Aged 23. I have Asperger Syndrome & anxiety. And I’ve been unemployed for the past few years.

I didn’t have a lot of work experience, my confidence was low & I didn’t truly believe in myself. I wanted this to change. And that’s where my story begins.

I’ve never been good with first days, let alone meeting new people and speaking in public. I was nervous and my anxiety was at an all time high. I had many thoughts running through my head during the first few days including, “What am I doing here?” and “We look like the most dysfunctional group of young adults ever.” However, these thoughts changed as the weeks went by. 

So in the middle of November at a sports centre in Medway, myself and around 20 other young adults arrived to start the ‘Get On Track’ programme. It was the first time the course was being run in Medway, after it being run over half a dozen times previously in Thanet. Basically, me and the group were the test subjects for the first Medway ‘Get On Track’.

Whilst on the ‘Get On Track’ programme me & the group had 3 mentors helping and supporting us along the way. Melanie Tsangarides; from Motiv8 Sports, a sports company partnered with the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust to deliver the ‘Get On Track’ programme to young adults in Kent. Michelle Griffith-Robinson; a retired English triple jumper who’s represented England & Great Britain in the Commonwealth Games & the Olympic Games. And Jimmy Corbett; an ex-footballer who’s previously played for Gillingham FC & Blackburn FC.

The first week was one of the most daunting weeks for not just me, but for the entire group as well. We didn’t know each other, yet within a few hours we had to push our insecurities aside, work together and become a team.

However, things didn’t go smoothly in the beginning and that was thanks to a challenge which would test our team-working skills to the limit. The challenge was made up of 10 different activities that had to be completed successfully within a time limit & if one activity was failed you had to start all over again from the beginning; and only one ‘Get On Track’ group in the past have successfully achieved this challenge.

Our group was uncertain yet somehow slightly optimistic with the chance to take on the challenge. And what happened next was something that has apparently never happened with a ‘Get On Track’ group before; the group fell apart. We weren’t organised, the quiet ones were left in the background whilst the big personalities of the group clashed heads. It was like watching a disaster happen in slow motion. In the end we failed miserably & we all went home after that first week feeling rather annoyed and disappointed with ourselves.

Yet we knew that things would get better from there. It was the early days of the programme and our team-working skills would only improve over the following weeks. After the nervousness of the first week, the weeks that followed were more exciting and interesting to participate in. We did a variety of activities over the next few weeks;

During the second week we learnt survival skills such as making and lighting a camp-fire using flint & steel, and then cooking our own lunch over it. (Myself & Michelle Griffith-Robinson that day ended up spending ages trying to cook a sausage over the camp-fire. We did eventually have a lunch of sausages, beans & couscous).

We did a lot of sporting activities as well, including taking part in a spin class & playing football on a muddy field in the rain (I scored 2 goals that day), followed by a tour of Priestfield Stadium the home of Gillingham FC.

We also had various lectures during the course; ranging from the local police talking about domestic violence, a talk about conflict management to a motivational talk from a magician (Yes. An actual magician who did magic whilst talking about motivation. It was brilliant!). As well as that, myself and the group also achieved Health & Safety and First Aid qualifications, some very important knowledge to have & great skills to add to our CVs.

In between all the activities during the first part of the ‘Get On Track’ programme our group was given the task to raise money and host a Christmas meal for a charity called Headway (a UK-based charity that supports people with brain injuries; more information about them can be found here). So on a cold December day myself & the group at an ASDA supermarket did what we could to raise money, from singing Christmas songs and running a tombola to packing customer’s shopping bags and asking people for spare change with charity buckets. The week after the fundraising the food for the Christmas lunch was bought, cooked & served to a group of people who have benefited from Headway and their services. Overall, we raised in total £375 and presented a representative from the charity a cheque for £250. The event was a success and it was a wonderful day filled with good food & Christmas songs.

After the success of the charity lunch the programme took a 2 week break for Christmas & new year. And to be honest, I needed it. I was exhausted, I ached and I had various bumps & bruises from all the activities done over the past month. The 2 weeks also gave me a chance to think about all that had happened during the programme so far.

In the beginning I was really nervous and in the first few weeks I had several anxiety/panic attacks. However as the weeks passed my mindset changed; during the times where I’ve felt anxious & scared the mentors and my friends were there for me & supporting me through it all. Suddenly one day I had a moment where I decided to try to put my over-thinking & anxiety aside; and once I did that I started to have fun & enjoy myself on the ‘Get On Track’ programme. With those thoughts in mind, I hoped to myself that I would carry my positive outlook & optimism I gained with me through to the next part of the programme and beyond.

As the new year began, myself and the group were united once again to continue the programme with great enthusiasm & renewed vigour. Well, as much energy a group of young adults could have on a cold day in January.

One of the big events that happened during the second half of the programme was meeting the woman herself, Dame Kelly Holmes. After 3 train rides & a taxi from Medway to Hildenborough, the group found ourselves outside Cafe 1809. A cafe created by Kelly Holmes that serves great food, drink & smoothies. We got there during the afternoon and had lunch with Kelly Holmes.

Meeting Kelly Homes was a great experience, she was so nice, friendly and welcoming to me & the ‘Get On Track’ group. Later that day we even had a chance to ask her questions during a Q&A session about herself, her career & the trust itself. (My picture with Dame Kelly Holmes: here)

After the treat of meeting Kelly Holmes, the real hard work began. Myself & the group were thrown into a work programme with Southeastern Railway, one of the biggest train service providers in the south-east of England and also provide some train services in London. During the 2 weeks of the programme we travelled to various train stations including Margate, Tonbridge and even to stations in London such as St Pancras & Blackfriars to visit their main control centre.

Our mentors for this part of the programme were Caroline Willson, Stephen Spencer-Jones a station manager for the Gillingham-end group of stations, and Martine Kydd; an employee of Southeastern who’s previously been on the ‘Get On Track’ programme in Thanet a few years ago (You can read about her story here).

During the two weeks of the work programme we learned about Southeastern as a company, what they do, how the company works and their work ethics before all of us were given 2 days of on-the-job work experience at gate-line & on the station platform.

My 2 afternoon/evening work shifts with Southeastern were at the newly refurbished Rochester station, alongside myself I was with another member of the group, Lauren. In those 2 days of work we learned how the station run effectively & efficiently, helped customers with their enquiries and even at one point did a train announcement over the PA system.

Those 2 days were an interesting, eventful and enlightening experience to say the least. Whilst on the first afternoon/evening work shift an incident occurred with a passenger on one of the station’s platforms. Station staff jumped into action, including me & Lauren to help resolve the situation. After some first aid and talking with the person, as well as reassuring customers on the platform we all managed to control the situation and the person eventually left the station without further incident.

In between the work programme/placement with Southeastern Railway myself and the group were kept busy with working on community projects. This included cleaning & painting a community centre (pictures from that day here) as well as running sports lessons for children at a primary school.

As myself and the group entered the last few days of the ‘Get On Track’ programme we were given a day of fun doing ice-skating and lunch at Nandos. I remember that day I only spent about 5-10 minutes on the ice because I didn’t know how to ice-skate and the ice-skates made me walk like a penguin, yet also I remember singing along to cheesy 90s songs, watching people ice-skate and spending time with people I can now call my friends.

The following day all the learning & hard work over the past 2 weeks from the Southeastern work programme/placement came down to this; an interview. And I was nervous. So nervous in fact that I must of had several panic attacks before my interview. However, after calming myself down and getting a pep-talk from my colleagues I had my interview.

I learned all about the company & revised the information constantly until my head ached with too much knowledge. I tried my best. And yet I didn’t pass the interview. In the end, the interviewees didn’t think I would be confident enough to represent them.

I was devastated. I was annoyed with myself and I felt as if the past few months of hard work were pointless. I felt more lost than ever before. I also had so many thoughts running through my head, but one question most of all; What’s next for me once the ‘Get On Track’ programme is finished?

However, after all the pain and sadness of that day there was something that had changed for the better. I didn’t feel so alone any more. When I was breaking down, someone was there for me and I truly appreciated their kindness & being there for me when I needed them. As I took the train journey back home I eventually accepted what had happened that day, and maybe the results were for the best.

As the last day of the ‘Get On Track’ programme arrived, it got me thinking about how far the group had come. In the beginning we were a group of dysfunctional young adults who had no job prospects, had barely anyone supporting & believing in them and had no idea what they were getting themselves into. And as the programme progressed I saw people coming out of their shells, shining bright like the sun and not being afraid to be themselves.

Some of my friends are true examples of that; before the ‘Get On Track’ programme my friend Jo didn’t know how to read and felt like nobody believed in her & her abilities. Whilst on the programme she taught herself to read and thanks to the support she got from the mentors & her colleagues, she eventually got a job with a painting/decorating company doing something she loves. Another great example of this is Michael, a young man who was quiet & barely talked to anyone and slowly throughout the ‘Get On Track’ programme he came out of his shell & felt more confident than before.

Before the ‘Get On Track’ programme, a lot of us (including myself) didn’t truly believe in ourselves. We hadn’t been given the support and the reasons to prove to people that we’re worth taking a chance upon. Once people started believing in us, we took the risk and showed the world what we could do. In the words of E.E. Cummings;

“We don’t believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us something is valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch. Once we believe in ourselves we can risk curiosity, wonder, spontaneous delight or any experience that reveals the human spirit.”

Then the day arrived, the final day of the ‘Get On Track’ programme. An award ceremony to celebrate our achievements over the past 2+ months. Family and friends of everyone in our group were there as well as people who’d helped us along the way were in the audience, representatives from the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust, Job Centre Plus, The Princes Trust, employees from Southeastern Railway and many more.

The evening was filled with happiness and celebration over the achievements & all that we’d done during the ‘Get On Track’ programme. We all got our various certificates to commemorate us completing the programme; and myself & Lauren even got special awards for doing our part when an incident happened during our work experience/placement with Southeastern Railway. (Pictures from the award ceremony: here & here)

After the formalities of the award ceremony were finished, the rest of the evening was spent consuming buffet food & having many discussions about what was next for all of us. However, what happened next was something I didn’t expect.

Representatives I’d previously met from Southeastern Railway approached me and after a deep discussion with them, they told me that they would give me a second chance. A chance to prove to them that their belief in me wasn’t misplaced. I’d somehow passed the interview and onto the next stage of the application process. And in that moment I felt on top of the world. For once in my life, someone gave me the chance to show them that I’m worth fighting for.

As the evening drew to a close the real question in the minds of many was; What’s next?

For me the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust ‘Get On Track’ programme made me a better person. It made me realise that when I put my fear & anxieties aside and take a risk, I can truly make a difference in the world. I don’t need to be afraid to be myself any more. Thanks to the ‘Get On Track’ programme I’ve experienced so many wonderful things and made new friends along the way.

I’m eternally thankful to everyone who’s supported me throughout the past few months whilst on the programme.

To my mentors, Melanie Tsangarides, Michelle Griffith-Robinson & Jimmy Corbett; thank you all for the constant support and the great pep talks along the way though the good times & the not-so-good times. You always believed in us right from day one, when were just a group of dysfunctional young adults in a sports hall. And thank you especially, for believing in me & seeing something within me that I was too afraid to show to the world until now.

Thank you to the representatives from various businesses including, ASDA, The Princes Trust, Headway, Bell Group and many more for giving us the opportunities to work with you whilst on the programme.

Thank you to Southeastern Railway and employees from the company including, Caroline Willson, Stephen Spencer-Jones and Martine Kydd for giving us the opportunity to learn about such an interesting organisation & work alongside employees at stations across the south-east of England.

And last (but certainly not least), thank you to Dame Kelly Holmes for giving young people the opportunity to improve their lives & job prospects through the ‘Get On Track’ programme. Without it myself and many other young unemployed people wouldn’t be heard and given the chance to prove ourselves. Also, thank you for meeting me & the group, the first ‘Get On Track’ group from Medway. I hope that sometime in the near future the Dame Kelly Holmes Trust will run another ‘Get On Track’ programme here, so that another group of young adults can experience it for themselves.

So you may be wondering, what’s next for me? Well, the future is looking bright & I’m now back on track.

UPDATE (As of 22/04/16): Since finishing the ‘Get On Track’ programme I’ve been keeping myself busy by doing volunteer work and I’ve recently started part-time volunteer work at the British Heart Foundation. And as for the next stage of the application process with Southeastern Railway; I passed the assessment with flying colours.