At the time the programme started, I spent most of my time indoors and had pretty much isolated myself from the outside world. Previously I had done a lot of activity, I had competed for Great Britain in the Special Olympics in 2019 but that all stopped when COVID happened.

Erin attended our Get on Track programme delivered virtually by athlete mentors and Paralympians Liz Johnson and David Hill. Erin is deaf and all the young people on this programme have a disability and were referred on to the programme by DWP.

I thought the programme was very welcoming and friendly. We did lots of games to build a good sense of connection with one another and it made me feel at ease joining in activities such as finding items in our homes. I honestly thought the programme was basically going to be about forcing us to get a job, but this wasn’t the case. The athlete mentors helped me build new skills to achieve employment when the time is right for me and the other people on the programme.

I really enjoyed working with my athlete mentor’s Liz Johnson and David Hill. They were very friendly and did not pressure you into an activity if you weren’t feeling confident at first. They gave you skills to help build confidence, including how to show yourself in a positive way to an interviewer when looking for a job and also many other skills not only for employment, but also for our everyday lives. A lot of the activities were enjoyable, and Liz and David were both knowledgeable, fun, and really put you at ease. 

My favourite part of the program was when we had other athlete mentors coming into our zoom sessions to do an activity or to share their life story with us within the group. It was nice to know that myself and the other young people on the programme weren’t alone with our own struggles in our own personal lives and we learned how we can change how we view ourselves in a more positive way as individuals.

I preferred doing the programme via Zoom as opposed to meeting face to face because it was in the comfort of own homes, and I was less anxious that way. I was a lot more prepared to come to sessions as I wasn’t anxious prior to attending the session as I probably would have been if I had to travel via public transport to attend.

Liz Johnson, athlete mentor on the programme.

Lots of the group had lost confidence and so the ability to deliver virtually was a real positive benefit. They all interacted really well, they were meeting people like themselves, and they were able to talk openly about their frustrations and not be judged. Having spent 12 months with this group and seen how brilliant they all are, I know that they are all very employable, they have exactly the kind of soft skills employers are looking for.

After the program finished, I started doing a level two British sign language course (BSL) looking to gain a qualification and help to start a job when I feel that I will be able to cope with employment. I am also doing voluntary work now in a couple of places. Firstly, I’m volunteering at my local disability swimming club as a helper and I’m also volunteering for a charity close to my heart called Hearing Dogs for Deaf People as I have an assistance dog myself. I thought it would be nice to give back to the charity so now I’m on my way to becoming a speaker for the charity, where I will go to schools, clubs and many other places to raise awareness of the incredible work Hearing Dogs do for Deaf people.

Now the programme has come to an end I’m doing a lot more activity on a daily basis. Whether that is travelling places for volunteering or socialising with my family and friends, I’m doing it more often than I used to prior to starting the programme. I also socialise with my family and friends more often than I used to.

Get on Track has helped me gain many new skills and boosted my confidence in myself as a disabled person. I recently went abroad on a trip with my local mainstream swimming club to a swim camp and had a fantastic experience. This is an example of inclusion and I’m very proud of myself that I had the opportunity to train in a sport that I dearly love, and I enjoyed socialising with people on the trip. I find communicating difficult, but this was overcome with the support of the staff and their understanding of my difficulties. They did not have a lower expectation of me and treated me equally which is important to me.

Liz and David helped me look at my life in a way that no matter what barriers come our way, I know can overcome them, and I truly look at my life in a more positive way now.

Erin attended the Get on Track for Wellbeing programme virtually. Thanks to funding from Sport England, we are working with 700 young people in coastal communities all across England to help them become more active. Participants on this virtual programme were all  referred by the DWP and the programme was run in partnership with Swale Leisure.