Forty nine year-old mother-of-two, Menen Tsige, has married her passion for food with a desire to help the next generation through a new job with catering specialists, Aspens Services.
It was made possible thanks to innovative employment programme, Working Capital, a partnership between APM and eight Central London Boroughs, funded by the European Social Fund.
“I was desperate for work to be able to feed and clothe my family,” said Menen. “Once I met APM it completely changed everything – they helped me to get a good job that I love and I am so happy!”
Originally from Ethiopia, Menen grew up in Paris where she started work aged just eleven years-old. From a single-parent family, she found herself caring for her younger siblings following the death of her father.
Having moved to England more than 10 years ago, Menen’s health suffered
from the effects of tuberculosis, epilepsy and chronic migraines which soon led to unemployment.
She said: “I have a background in catering having worked in restaurants in the past, but I didn’t think that anyone would employ someone like me.
“I had a brain operation as I kept collapsing and my disability would get me down. “I sent my CV to lots of places but no one has ever come back to me. When I met my manager at Aspens, I told him that I have a disability and it was up to him whether he accepted me.”
Rather than duplicate existing provision, Working Capital aims to knit vital public services together. We employ qualified healthcare professionals to work alongside specialist caseworkers.
This dedicated team is tasked with giving people with enduring mental and physical health conditions access to the services best suited to their individual needs.
APM Caseworker, Priscilla Barnett supported Menen through Working Capital, addressing confidence issues, updating her CV and facilitating an introduction to her new employer.
“Menen was emotional at every appointment,” said Priscilla. “She was highly anxious and embarrassed about her medical condition, so it took a little while to re-build her confidence and show her that there are flexible employers like Aspens Services out there, who are prepared to give people an opportunity.”
Menen, who arrives early for every shift, originally joined her new employer on a three-month contract. Six months later and she is becoming an integral part of the Aspens team.
Darren Swadling from Aspens Services said: “Great customer service, attention to detail and a passion for service are all vital ingredients to our successful meal service in schools, sixth forms and colleges.
“We love working with our customers and we employ people like Menem who share the same values.”
Aspens utilise a “mystery shopper” to ensure high standards are maintained in their dining rooms and were highly impressed with Menen’s work ethic and dedication.
Menen added: “To stay at home makes you sick, I only had a routine of tablets. Here I bake cakes, I support the chef, I clean hot plates after service and engage with our customers – and I love it!
“If you push yourself and put your mind to it, you will succeed. I don’t want to be viewed as disabled.”