I got my first official job when I was 13.
I worked in Forest Gate Wimpy for £1.50 cleaning dishes, serving customers and occasionally on a Saturday dressing up as Mr Wimpy and playing party games with children who were high on chocolate sundaes.
As difficult as I was as a child you could never call me work shy.
I did all kinds of jobs to make sure I had money growing up. Checkout assistant in a supermarket, theatre usher, salad packer, barmaid…you name it I have probably done it for a bit.
So you might think I would be a bit overwhelmed and perhaps a little embarrassed walking into Stratford Job Centre aged 36 to sign on. But I wasn’t really, I just saw it as a bit of a new adventure. I figured a couple of months with some extra cash now my maternity pay had stopped would come in handy, and I assumed the advisors there would get me back into employment in no time.
Sadly they just didn’t know what to do with me. I had close to a year ago been made redundant at 7 months pregnant from a managerial position in a local authority working on the 2012 Olympics, and when they looked at my colourful and varied CV showing 20 years of employment I almost wondered if they thought I was making it all up.
The first few weeks of signing on were a little annoying but bearable. Rose was still very small but there was no lift to get to the second floor where you had your interviews, so I had to carry her up, with all my bags etc…and trying to keep a toddler quiet and out of trouble while you are explaining for the fourth time that a retail job just wasn’t going to work, became a little trying.
It was the way people spoke to me that really started getting me annoyed. They expected me to understand the system…using phrases and terminology that only the hardcore unemployed would know…I was new to all of this, so then the staff would often turn to sarcasm or tell me that this had all been explained to me before when it hadn’t.
I played the game though…looking for proper employment the way I knew how to. I mean I hadn’t been out of work EVER as an adult, something had always come along, and I often went from job to job with nice little promotions and pay rises along the way. I thought I was reasonably employable.
“Oh but you haven’t been using job search,” the woman said to me one day.
“Erm no, I haven’t…there are no jobs over 20K on job search” followed by “plus the kinds of employment I am looking for just aren’t listed there”
“Well, Julie your circumstances have changed now you might have to be more flexible” she said.
There was no way I was going to take a pay cut of more than 50% and move into an area of work I wasn’t interested in, it just wasn’t going to happen. So a battle of wills started to take place each fortnight, with myself and the advisor going round and round in circles. I did go for one job interview. It was an interesting job, part-time and a low salary but I figured I could top it up with some freelance work. But I didn’t get it…I still to this day think it was the cheap suit the Job Centre had paid for that did it….not to sound ungrateful but my old suits didn’t fit me anymore and I didn’t have the cash to buy another…so I had to go to their preselected stores and choose one. Urgghhh.
It all came to a head one day when I went to sign on one day, it had been raining outside and I was a bit hot and flustered as Rose was playing up a bit and when I asked at reception if I could go up to sign on they said that my claim had been stopped and I would have to wait a certain amount of weeks to reapply (I can’t remember the details now…I think I have blocked it all out)
At first, I was calm and asked if I could speak to an advisor about how it would affect my housing benefit and council tax relief but they refused and said I could phone instead. Jobcentres don’t pick up the phone…or maybe it was just me…maybe they just didn’t pick up for me. I just wanted to know on what grounds they had cancelled my claim…I wanted to see that advisor and have her explain it to me to my face.
And in that moment I became THAT person.
If you have ever signed on or been in a government building around people trying to get their life back together, you will know THAT person.
It’s the person that just loses their shit.
Now I am not an angry person, in fact I am quite reserved…don’t like to make a fuss…but I was done with being treated like a nobody. Now I understood why the place had security, and why 2 out of the 3 phones on the wall had been ripped out of their sockets and were no longer in use.
“I am a person” I screamed.
“I am a real fucking person, can’t you just treat me like an actual person?”
And that’s when the three (yes three) security guards who I had seen for the last six months and nodded at, walked over to me and firmly escorted me out of the building.
My face was red, my eyes were brimmed with tears and my heart was pounding…I was so bloody angry.
I was angry at them, but also I was angry at me.
I had completely lost any sense of who I was. I had nothing to cling on to. No job. No social life. A relationship which was fast falling apart. I had never felt so alone in all of my life.
The following week I was asked to come back into the job centre as there had been a mistake and I would be allowed to sign on afterall.
Part of me didn’t even want to go back in that building.
But I had to.
I was on a mission. Unlike any, I had ever been on and not to go and cause a riot.
In the week gone past I had found out that there was a scheme, you could be referred to from the Jobcentre if you were interested in starting up your own business…and I was interested in setting up my own business…boy was I ready to start up my own business.
I had been writing a blog for a number of years and had built up quite a following…I just had to work out a way to monetise it.
What followed was 6 months of filling in forms, creating a business plan, attending workshops which were so piss easy it was a joke…and then finally in June 2014 I received £2500 start-up loan and Too Fat to Run was born.
I felt like I was a somebody again.
Look guys, this isn’t your typical rags to riches story…cos damn I am nowhere near rich yet, but every day I walk past that building I am reminded of how close I was to losing everything and hitting rock bottom…I was literally weeks away from losing my home, the home I had worked for 10 years to achieve, I was considering using the local food bank…shit, I didn’t even have a flipping pair of jeans that fitted me.
It is a million miles away from where I am today, just 4 years later, but I am reminded so often now that all you need is an idea and someone to believe in it, to help you out of the hole you can often find yourself in when life takes a nose dive like mine did.
I am also reminded that some people go through that shit week in week out, dealing with being spoken down to and not believed when they say they are looking for work…it is enough to break you, seriously it really is.
Today has been a momentous day for me, just like that day was when I got unceremoniously kicked out of my local jobcentre, a day which I think I will look back on as the day it all changed.
Today though has been an ordinary day though in many ways. I woke up late, spent the day at my desk barely taking time for a break, I picked Rose up from school went and did some shopping, came home cooked and played with Rose until it was time for me to go and do CrossFit…I am marathon training at the moment in case you didn’t know.
And then at 10pm, I sat at my desk looking for the message I had been anxiously dreading all week.
The website is done…its up…its ready to share.
My new business venture which I have been working on for the past 12 months was finally ready to launch into the big bad world….and it hit me like a train.
4 years ago I was Julie Creffield, an unemployed new parent who had completely and absolutely lost her sense of direction in life.
Today I am Julie Creffield, CEO & Founder of a global company, author of 8 books, ultramarathon running, award-winning blogger….oh and transformational LIFE COACH!!!
I am a somebody. A somebody on a mission to change the bloody world.
I help ordinary women who are a little bit lost like I was to do extraordinary things with their lives. I help brilliant women work out what it is they really want and then give them the tools to do it. I help women live healthier, happier, wealthier, more adventurous lives…and in the process of doing that, I make sure I never have to go in that bloody Jobcentre or any other one like it ever again.