First Step Trust puts Harriet in the driving seat

“I have been out delivering VR (Virtual Reality) training with Ronnie (Wilson – First Step Trust’s Chief Executive) and Warren Cox (First Step Trust’s Director of Operations) to some psychiatric wards,” says Harriet Tawari of her latest remit. The former Learning Development Worker is delighted that she has just been promoted to Basic Skills Trainer, “I’m so grateful to have this opportunity, First Step Trust (FST) has seen something in me, something worthwhile and have kept pushing me forward; it’s been a real eye-opener.”

At Springfield Hospital: “Most of the patients we’re working with are able to progress to the virtual garage and start the wheel changing training programme,” explains Harriet. “They were very engaged and found it useful to do this kind of training before going into an actual garage and attempting it physically because it gives them an idea of what to expect and learn about the process. It was a bit challenging the first couple of weeks as we had to get them used to operating the controls, but once they were familiar with the controls they were able to progress to the next level.”

Meanwhile, at Bethlem Hospital training was delivered to staff, “to give them an idea of what we will be doing for their patients, but to start with it will be getting them used to handling the equipment and using the controls before progressing to the virtual garage training programme.”

The hope is that some people once out of hospital will choose to follow up First Step Trust’s courses and volunteering and employment opportunities.

FST is a social enterprise offering volunteering and employment opportunities for those with mental health conditions, learning disabilities, drug and alcohol issues and other disadvantages. Opportunities include catering (via Abbevilles restaurant, Clapham – currently dishing up delicious take away fish n’chips), motor mechanics, gardening, admin, reception, customer service and finance.

Alliance and partners

Ronnie Wilson highlights that the development of the Living Well Network Alliance (the alliance) “continues to provide new and exciting opportunities for good practice and the sourcing of new and innovative approaches. Our partners within the alliance and other partners have been helping us find new ways of using technology e.g. virtual reality training programmes to help eliminate some of the barriers to learning that impact on people’s lives. Harriet is delivering this type of training to some of the most disadvantaged residents across the borough,” he says. (See video below).

“I learnt a lot about myself and my capabilities and that there are always others that will believe in you even if you do not believe in yourself,” says Harriet, who joined as a FST volunteer in 2016 after suffering a mental health crisis.

She heard about FST through the Job centre. “At the time I was on ESA (work group) and was being pressured by DWP (Department of Works & Pensions) to start looking for employment. I told my advisor that I was not particularly confident enough to start work and that I would like to volunteer for the time being and build on my employability skills. My advisor then mentioned FST and that they were doing courses on employability skills.

“I had suffered a knee injury and had to take time off work in my previous employment (she had worked in security and as a fitness instructor). Prior to that I was already very unhappy at work. The management came across as bullies and the job itself was quite demanding and at times dangerous due to abusive and unruly individuals. I never really thought that I had any mental health issues… I just thought I was going through the motions. As time went by the thought of going back to work began to make me anxious, I felt isolated and alone and that is when I contemplated suicide by trying to overdose on my pain meds. When my sister contacted me, she knew something was not right and called an ambulance and made an appointment for me to see my GP.”

Harriet says she escaped being sectioned and that CBT, talking therapies and medication have all helped… but it was getting back to employment that set her on the road to recovery.

Good teachers and inspiration

“For years I never really knew what type of career I wanted or what sort of job I would feel happy doing, till I came to First Step Trust. I learnt that help is available you just need to know where to look and most importantly ask for it.”

Good teachers are also important she says, praising former colleagues Gail Dawson, Sandra Hanlon and now Katie Ryan, who have influenced her and helped her build on her skills.

Harriet volunteered in admin, including setting up data systems at the then West Norwood garage, and says it was comforting to see there were “others like myself in a similar situation and that I was not the only one. It also inspired me to help them realise their potential and that they can have goals and achieve them”.

She got her first job with FST in 2018, “enabling me to do more for our workforce and others that visited to enrol on our courses. I very much enjoyed delivering the courses and learning for myself. This has made me become more organised and find other ways to keep individuals engaged. I always try to do things differently the next time.

“I very much appreciate the opportunity First Step Trust has given me to not only help and improve myself but to also help others improve and develop new skills.”

Karen Hooper

All the information regarding courses and placements can be found at

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