Carers Week 2022: Sharen’s story, as a Zest keyworker & carer

The theme of Carers Week 2022, which takes place between Monday 6 and Sunday 12 June, is ‘Make caring visible, valued and supported’.

Carers UK, which organises the awareness week, says unpaid carers and the challenges of caring “should be recognised in all areas of life, caring should be valued and respected by everyone in our society, and carers should have access to the information and support they need, where and when they need it”.

In Sheffield, Zest is delivering a bespoke employment support programme for unemployed and economically inactive parents and carers who are looking to return to the workplace. The new ‘Works for Me’ programme is part of the Ambition project, part-funded by the European Social Fund. The project commenced in April and is scheduled to run until November 2023.

Sharen, Zest keyworker

Zest keyworker Sharen Mathers, who delivers the ‘Works for Me’ project, has personal experience of caring and also the challenge of seeking employment while looking after a loved one. In this specially commissioned blog article for Carers Week 2022, she explains how she juggles her many commitments, and describes how keyworker support at Zest was initially crucial in supporting her back into the workplace.

Sharen’s story

My name is Sharen I am a carer; I have health conditions myself and I work at Zest.  My job is rewarding helping other people who are carers and want to achieve employment and training goals.

I started volunteering at Zest in 2016 after I had been out of work for over two years due to me being diagnosed with a long-term condition, which resulted with me suffering from depression and anxiety.

For the first month I volunteered for two mornings a week, then once my confidence increased, I volunteered more hours and days a week.  I supported clients with job searching and I assisted the ESOL tutor in class with the learners.  This had a really positive effect on me, as I met people from different cultures and backgrounds, but more than anything, it built up my confidence even more.

Zest were awarded funding which enabled me to do a Level 3 Award in Education and Training course which was one full day a week; as well as completing the course, I continued to volunteer at the same time.

I successfully completed the course which means I am now qualified to teach adults in the community.  I was offered zero-hour contract running a managing budget course online, which, if I had not done the qualification in teaching, I would have not been able to deliver.

During 2017 Zest gave me a part time contract working on the Sheffield’s Working programme. By this time, I was also caring for my husband:  at home I do nearly everything from cooking, cleaning and helping my husband with daily tasks to get him through the day.

It can be hard sometimes juggling work and home. Fortunately, my manager is very supportive and the company has policies and procedures to aid; if I have to attend a GP or hospital appointment with my husband, she always helps me with a solution where I am able to attend the appointments to avoid using annual leave or lose any hours over the month.  I can also swap my working days if needed.

Having a flexible and supportive employer and colleagues is essential.  If I didn’t have this support, I would not be able to work and deal with my caring duties properly, therefore I would have to give up work, which I want to avoid as working also helps me maintain my own mental wellbeing.

I have since completed a qualification in information, advice and guidance which helps when I am working supporting clients, who are wanting to go back into work.   I can understand and relate to how difficult it is for them to care for someone but also have a work life balance, and can support them in identifying and overcoming the barriers attached to this situation.

I have worked in all different sectors over the years from warehouse to retail, and I would never have applied for this sort of work, however, I find supporting clients that I can relate to very rewarding. Without Zest giving me a chance to gain experience through volunteering with the bonus of the training I needed to do my job, maybe I still would be out of work six years later.

As a Keyworker at Zest I specialise in supporting others carers that live in Sheffield who want to upskill by training and or find paid employment with the right employer.  If you would like my help or further information please complete our contact form to request support.

Sharen Mathers, Keyworker, Zest

More information on ‘Works for Me’

Zest contact form for Parents & Carers returning to work

To register your interest or make a referral, please use the contact form below: