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How to Support Someone with Aphasia


What is Aphasia?

Aphasia is the impairment of language which affects the production or comprehension of speech and the ability to read and write. It is always due to injury to the left frontal lobe (Broca’s area) which is the dominant hemisphere for speech control. It is most commonly caused by Stroke, particularly in older people but stroke can also affect young people. Brain injuries resulting in aphasia can also be caused by trauma, tumours or infections too.

What is the level of impairment?

Aphasia can be significant, making communication almost impossible or it can be very mild. It might affect one aspect of language such as naming objects or can affect the ability to form sentences or the ability to read. Often it will affect many different aspects of speech.

Can Aphasia get better?

It will usually affect someone more significantly when they are tired. When aphasia has been caused by a brain trauma, it can improve.  This is because the brain can rewire itself with practice. Connections are made in the brain and with use, the messages can get around faster.

How can I help someone with aphasia?

If you know someone who is affected by aphasia it is important to know how to support them fully.

  • Ensure you have the person’s attention before you start to speak
  • Minimise background noise and interruptions if possible – for example turn off the TV
  • Don’t shout unless the person has asked you to speak up
  • Don’t talk down to the person – keep your sentences simple but at an adult level and emphasise key words.
  • Avoid finishing sentences for the person – if you need to make a suggestion for a word, ask if it’s ok to guess what it is they are saying -“Should I say what I think you mean? – Did you mean XXX?”
  • Use drawings, gestures, writing and facial expressions. Often a person with aphasia will be given a communication pack including pictures of common every day items, and an alphabet.  Pointing at the first letter of the word can help as well as spelling out names etc.
  • Don’t point out errors – encourage all attempts at speach
  • Engage in normal activities as much as possible
  • Include the person in the conversation – especially in making decisions
  • Keep the person informed of what is happening, but avoid burdening them with too much detail
  • Encourage independence and try not to be overprotective.


If you’re living with aphasia or have a loved one with it, we can help.  Get in touch.

Testimonial from Angela Phillips

Morning Kelly – I just wanted to say a huge thank you for ‘pointing me’ in the right direction when
I was rather lost! I’m really enjoying working at VODA and I never expected things to happen so quickly – it’s been like a whirlwind! Thank you so much again for all of your help and I hope that you’re keeping well and that business is good. I’ve already mentioned to Ian that I’ll keep my eyes and ears open for anything for you – you’re such a lovely lady! Thank you again! X

Angela Phillips – North Tyneside

Picture Perfect!

Guest Blog, told to us by Gillian Cross

I have worked as a photographer for 20 years, which is the whole of my career. That has started to seem quite unusual, when so many photographers fall into the job as a second career path.

I chose my A-level subjects because I enjoyed doing them. I didn’t really have a clue what I wanted to do as a career at that point. Then in the summer between my Sixth Form years, I had to think hard about what Further Education I wanted to apply for. I liked watching sports and I liked taking photographs. So I decided that I’d be a sports photographer and enrolled on a B-Tec National Diploma in Photography.

I did that course for two years and learnt everything about the technical and compositional side of photography. It was film in those days and I hadn’t had any previous experience of developing and printing photos.

After the course I could’ve gone on to do an extra year completing a Higher National Diploma but I decided that wouldn’t add to my knowledge and tried to get a job. During my course I had done some work experience in a local commercial studio and also did some after college in another studio who were looking to take on another photographer’s assistant. That was a great experience – taking photos of Christmas decorations in the middle of summer! There were a few of us from college who trialed for that job and unfortunately I didn’t get it.

The main challenge back then was finding a job with a photographer. There were no ads in the job section saying “photographer wanted”. Job Seekers Allowance had just come in so you had to write down every week what you’d done to find work that week. My options were limited. So I went through the Yellow Pages and listed all of the local photographers. I sent letters out each week explaining that I’d just finished a photography course and asking if they had need of another photographer. A couple of them wrote back to say they’d put me on their records, some didn’t write back at all.

Then one day I got a call from a photographer in Ashington who was looking for someone and had just been about to place an advert in the paper. I had saved him the trouble. So I went for a trial and got the job!

College didn’t prepare me for actually photographing people in portraits or weddings so I learnt everything from him as his assistant before I had clients of my own. He also had a mini-lab where we printed people’s holiday snaps so I mostly ended up running that as well. I didn’t mind at the time as it was working with customers and in a small business you get involved in the day to day running of the business.

After two years I was unhappy and was lucky again getting the next job. We occasionally printed other photographer’s work and there was a local schools photographer who used our services. She happened to photograph the school where my mum taught. They got chatting one day and she was looking for another photographer. I went for an interview with some portrait and wedding photos that I’d taken, and got the job.

I was there for ten years and in that time I got married and had a baby. After maternity leave I went back part time for a couple of years but things had changed. I always said I would never become self employed, but someone convinced me it was the right thing to do. Working for a small business not only gave me the photographic experience but also the insight into how to run a business.

I think for creative people, they love doing what they’re good at but don’t always have the skill for running a business. I know that the area I have to work on is marketing. Actually getting the customers through the door. But self employment gives me the flexibility to be there for our son, and to pursue the art side of my career as well as continuing to take photographs which is what I love to do.

You can get in touch with Gillian and see more of her work here. Gillian Cross Photography

The Accidental Administrator

Told to us by Jennifer Brown


Yup. I really did get into my dream job by accident. Which just goes to prove that we end up right where we should be, even if that is not where we thought we were actually heading.

I was the teenager that caused Careers Advisors to tear out their hair in frustration. Unable to articulate what one career I wanted to follow, I was very clear about what I was NOT going to do; join the Civil Service, work in an office, or “push paper”. I certainly wasn’t going to become an administrator.

With such strong views on the subject, you might guess that the first organisation to offer to employ me was the Civil Service. I joined as a Temporary Admin Assistant, providing cover for various departments but although I did enjoy the variety and learned the roles very quickly, I was very keen to move on to roles with more responsibility and the ability to control my own workload.

The following year I joined the Civil Service permanently as an Admin Officer in search of this mythical responsibility. Posted to a role managing version controls and proof-checking documentation, I spent three years driving my boss mad with requests for more work, different work, extra responsibility and temporary promotion. He was probably glad to see the back of me, stirring up his nice quiet team with my demands to do more, be stretched and make my mark in the workplace. In fact that was pretty much the theme of the first ten or so years of my career. A string of general admin roles in a variety of sectors, each one carefully chosen in the hope of it being the role that would finally stretch me and allow me to shine as I was sure I could. Each one turned out to be too easy. One role was advertised as “incredibly busy”. I was even asked at interview if I handled stress well. I was so thrilled at the idea of taking a job where there would be enough work to create stress that I absolutely leapt at the role. Within two weeks I was doing my own job, my bosses job, volunteering to assist three other people in the department and still had acres of spare time. I started an Open University degree to provide the stretch that my career wasn’t providing and found studying independently in that way exhilarating. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I enjoyed the courses, loved learning new things, found managing my time extremely easy, and learned an awful lot about how to write persuasively, research topics and read selectively; all skills I found invaluable when I made my next career move.

So, there I am, head in my books when I’m not at the office, craving a role where I could manage my own workload the way I managed my learning and hobbies, yet increasingly disillusioned with admin as a career. So when I made my next career move I was just looking for a role nearer to home so I had more time to study. The role I applied for was at a new College and I was just recruited as “An Administrator”, one of a number who started on the same day. But I was super lucky. I got one of only two roles where I would manage my own workload, provide full admin support for over 40 staff, and set up new processes that would be used when the College opened. I loved that role from the first day. For the first time in my career I was fully occupied all day, challenged, stretched, trusted and a genuinely valued part of a close knit, professional team. I actually felt a huge sense of relief that there was a role I could enjoy, that there was something I was good at, that I wasn’t going to have to spend the next few decades of my life miserably counting the minutes until the end of the day as I had in most of my previous roles. I worked alongside some fabulous people, learned a lot about myself and my capabilities and woke up every single day with a smile on my face, eager to get to work and get on with the next challenge. Every subsequent role has been measured against the yardstick of this one. I was also lucky enough to work for an extremely experienced manager who, knowing how ambitious I was, coached me for promotion. On the same day that my promotion was confirmed I also got the letter from the Open University to say that I had gained first class honours in my degree.

I moved into a supervisory position, managing the team I’d just left, supported by the same boss who had seen my potential. He was a fabulous mentor to have and taught me a huge amount. I was always stretched in the role because the management team were always willing to let me take on new tasks. And I took on a lot of new tasks, expanding my role well beyond my job description. If I had to choose just one lesson I took from this role it was this; if you don’t have enough of a challenge in your role, look around you. Listen to what people are talking about. Find a problem you think you can solve. Present the problem and the solution to management and ask if you can run with it. If you are not allowed to do anything about it, you have at least shown promise. If you are allowed to run with it, you can really show what you are made of. Either way, you aren’t going to lose. Maybe if I had learned that lesson a bit sooner, my earlier career might have been a little more satisfying.

So, I’m pottering along, gathering up new responsibilities and new skills as I go and having rather a nice time in my role. I’ve taken a CMI Leadership and Management course by this time to consolidate and demonstrate my knowledge and my boss is starting to think about retirement in a few years. He is handing more and more work over to me which I am loving and I’m confident enough by now to be thinking to myself “hmmm, I rather fancy his corner office”. At which point both of us were made redundant, bringing that little fantasy to a screeching halt.

I got a new job straight away, with a large IT company. Not a sector I was familiar with it must be said, so there was a hugely steep learning curve. The tech staff appeared to be speaking in tongues, I had no clue how any of the processes worked, and on my very first day I was put in sole charge of an auditing project that I didn’t really understand. However, the role was pretty much organising, trouble shooting and problem solving though admittedly on a global scale this time. I had the skills, I just needed to learn how to apply them in a different way. So, I bought a dictionary of IT terminology, consulted Mr Google when unsure and practiced my “I really do understand what you are yammering about” face in the mirror until it was convincing. The IT sector moves rapidly so I was constantly learning new systems and processes and trying to get my head around new things. It was exhilarating, hard work, super challenging and I loved it. Even better, I was working from home. I had been a bit nervous about that part but found it worked better for me than an office. I had no problems with concentration and my only real difficulty was the lure of the biscuit tin. I even enjoyed blasting up and down the motorway to meetings. So I’m in the middle of a super challenging project, really enjoying my work, getting really good reports and making a name for myself as a reliable and determined problem solver who met her KPI’s… and …. I’m made redundant for the second time in two years.

This time I didn’t find a job right away and had to temp for quite a while. Unexpectedly, I really enjoyed temporary work. The work was varied and I had some longer-term assignments which were more challenging interspersed with some really fun short assignments. Highlights included working on a chocolate packing line (no, I wasn’t allowed to eat any) where I was too short to see into the boxes and had to be given a box to stand on. Standing in the snow doing visitor surveys during a sporting event. Acting as PA to a man whose desk was a living example of what an explosion in a paper factory might look like. And two stints as a waitress where I failed miserably in the “speed gravy carrying”, “pick up dropped cutlery whilst carrying soup” and “wash up eleventy billion items in ten minutes whilst also waiting tables and replenishing the café stock” challenges. Driving back from yet another job interview one day, I realised that I was really enjoying the flexibility and variety that temping offered. However, I wanted to have more choice in the roles I took and the chance to use more of the skills I’d gained over the years in a way that would benefit businesses. How I was going to do that I wasn’t sure. I kept on applying for jobs, but in the back of my mind I was turning over ways to have a more flexible working arrangement.

Then I read about something called a Virtual Assistant. They provide office support on a freelance basis and mostly worked from home. I had the right skill set, I loved learning new things (I’d have to keep up to date with new tech advances so I could share these with my clients) and I figured I had the determination to succeed in building up a business from scratch. And thus began my journey from employee to business owner. JJB Office Services officially opened for business in June 2016 and I’m currently working on a full time project as a temp whilst I build up my business and client list. I am enjoying both roles enormously. The early stages of business set up can be difficult and it may be one of the biggest challenges I’ve taken on. However, it is without doubt one of the most rewarding. I’ve done things I never thought I’d have the confidence to do and faced things that downright frightened me, but my confidence grows with every new skill I learn, and every new task I complete that brings me closer to my goal. So if you are thinking that business ownership might be for you, then go for it. My mentor frequently asks us what we are doing with our “one wild and precious life”. Well… what are you doing with it? Whatever it is, employee, employer, business owner, or a mixture of these, I hope it is something that thrills, excites, challenges and stretches you, because that is where the magic happens.

Chopping and Changing: Career paths (From our guest Sue Turnbull)

Chopping and Changing: Career paths

From pushing papers to digging holes.
Then chainsaws & tractors,
to holistic therapies & dowsing.

When I first started work in the mid 1990’s, I had no idea the changes I’d make to what I was doing and where I’d end up over 20 years later. It’s been a convoluted route – administrator in higher education to roving commercial archaeologist, to ranger carrying out land management, to (latterly) what I do now. I’m a Bach flower remedy practitioner who does dowsing surveys (house healing & land healing) and also reads runes and tarot.

Each time I’ve decided to change career path, I’ve made sure I had (most of) the skills that the potential employer wanted. The admin. side I fell into after studying for a geology degree, but I was in the right place at the right time to get computer training (Windows95 no less) amongst other things, which was a massive help.

Making the leap from admin. to archaeology was quite a big one. Though I did plan. I was able to do part-time studies. Having done full-time study I knew that planning was key to keeping the studies going. Also being focussed on getting a job in the field was a helpful carrot to encourage me when I had (major) wobbles about what I was doing. I asked a potential employer what he was looking for and his response was whilst archaeological knowledge was important he also wanted folks to have a driving licence and first aid. Archaeology units now have more requirements such as CiFA membership and the CSCS card, though practical experience is top of the list. Volunteer for practical experience if you have to, there are community digs and groups out there who can help with that.

The English Heritage Finds hut in Swindon, 2004.

Archaeologist to ranger was relatively easy, but I did take a year out from working to re-train. The organisation I was with were able to support me through all sorts of training – not least my chainsaw and tractor driving. I completed an NVQ (level 2) in Environmental Conservation as well, which focussed my volunteering nicely.

Sue at Chyvarloe, Cornwall signpost making for the SW Coast Path, 2007.

Be prepared to go back to the old career for a few months for a crossover into the new. It took me on average 10 months each time to fully move into paid work in the desired profession. So have a back-up plan, and savings and be flexible, with plenty of focus. You CAN do it.

The holistic and dowsing thread was always bubbling alongside the jobs I was doing. I trained in reiki in 2001, did a reflexology course in 2002 and continually immersed myself in dowsing and tarot until 2012 when I really discovered how helpful Bach flower remedies were. The job at that time was taking a massive toll on me physically, but was causing big mental and emotional health wobbles too. I ended up on long-term sick for two years – unable to function very well and spending much of the time feeling tremendously guilty for not being at work and not being able to do a job I’d loved. Horribly anxious and depressed about my working future I nearly had a second breakdown, but the Bach remedies and a hugely supportive GP and very helpful union rep. kept me going on the road to recovery.

Two dowsing friends in Cumbria, 2014.

Two dowsing friends in Cumbria, 2014.

I’m self-employed now, mainly so I can work around my health peaks and troughs. Whilst my earning potential is taking time to gain momentum I would still recommend it as a possible route for people. But again- PLAN and be realistic. Pro’s and con’s lists can help. Finding out what you need to have (certain training, insurance etc.) is vital. The web has a huge resource to tap into. Find support groups (like The Inspire Network) or use a business or career coach as they’ll know things that will help you further your dreams. Don’t undersell yourself either. You might feel fearful about the future, I have and it’s sometimes part of the journey. Keep focussed, and keep moving forward with your plans.

Career changes are possible. Two careers/ jobs might run alongside one another until you can finally swap over, but don’t give up if you want to try it. You’ll have to work hard, be patient and focussed. But do it if it’s what you want to do. Better to regret what you’ve done than what you haven’t done. And there’s always a silver lining – even in the darkest days I hung onto that belief, and there was one in the end!


Find me at:

Dowsing surveys (house & land healing). Bach flower remedy practitioner. Rune & tarot reader.

Career Change When Pregnant

There are many reasons why you might consider a career change when pregnant. If you’re on the outside looking in on an expectant mother thinking about changing jobs you might think it an odd idea – why complicate your life during one of the most transforming experiences through choice?

Well, there are a number of reasons for considering a career change when pregnant. Here are a few of them:

– You’re looking for a family friendly employer
– Looking for less hours
– You want a job closer to home so you spend less time commuting
– You are looking for more change
– Your job isn’t floating your boat anymore
– Your priorities or values have shifted
– You are worried about your health and safety at work
– You may have insecure work or be facing redundancy
– You may be thinking about giving up work for a few years to bring up your children

Whatever the reason for considering a career change when pregnant, it is certainly not a decision to be taken lightly if the choice is with you.

Beware that other workplaces seem to have more perks than where you work now but in reality they don’t stack up when weighed against the disadvantages. In some workplaces it may be that an employee is not entitled to certain maternity benefits until they have completed a specified period in that employment, so considering changing jobs on that basis would not be worth it due to not being entitled to those benefit on day one of employment.

The employer you are thinking of taking a job with may offer flexible working or the option to work at home. Do they also expect more hours than you are paid for though? Many teachers would relate to this, as they are seen to work term time only but are expected to be up to date with marking work and preparing lessons outside of the contact time with the students, which isn’t always factored in.

Looking for work takes up time and energy and when you are having a baby, you may not have much of either – especially if this isn’t your first baby. If you’ve been pregnant before you will know how tiring it is and if you’re working full time at the same time this can be difficult.

You need to consider your rights when applying for work. Have you asked yourself if it is fair to the new employer to take so much time off just after starting a new job? This is a moral conundrum as in law an employer has no right to ask this question, although in reality this may not always happen. I have certainly experienced situations where I have been asked my plans for having children in an interview and I know I am not alone due to my client work. From a moral perspective it is good practice to discuss this with an employer once they have offered the job. It will help you work out if practically it will work for you, and it will help the employer plan for your absence. If you are being brought in to troubleshoot a problem then it may have an impact on the business when you are off work, so it is fair to explore this with an employer.

It’s important to know your rights if things do go wrong so you can be armed with the facts.

Pregnant employees have four main rights:

– Paid time off for antenatal care
– Maternity leave
– Maternity pay or maternity allowance
– Protection against unfair treatment, discrimination and dismissal

You can find out more about your rights here.

If you want help to look for a new job, whether or not you are expecting a bundle of joy, you can contact us here.


New Year, New You!

Happy New Year! Have you made any New Years Resolutions this year? If you are, are you struggling to keep them? Well its not surprising really. I found these statistics that show that only 9.2% of people felt they were successful in achieving their resolution, so you’re not alone.

Personally, I made a resolution very many years ago (maybe around 20 years ago) never to make a new years resolution and it has been the only one I’ve ever stuck to. However, I am in a bit of a quandary. I’m a rebel, I admit it – and that means I really hate following the crowd and doing what everyone else does. It goes against the grain to update my social media with messages about Easter, Valentine’s, Christmas and other “Hallmark days” (events designed to get you to part with your hard earned cash!). However, I run a business and if I am going to be successful I need to share content that people want to see, not what makes me happy! I digress slightly. So back to me being a rebel. I’m a rebel in that I don’t make resolutions when the clock strikes 12 on 31st December (or is that 1st Jan?) and try my best to be a completely different person, as if there is something wrong with the me that existed last year. I do however, believe in self improvement and I think the best way to achieve that is through small and gradual changes.

So here’s the bit that is sticking for me this year – during 2016 I rediscovered that self development pathway that I originally stumbled upon sometime during my late teens and has never really left me…. There are times of more intensive change though as I meet people at different stages of their own journey that teach me what I need to learn. I met some people who are helping me challenge my thoughts and feelings in relation to my business and also myself as I also hit a milestone age in my life. There were big realisations that I haven’t achieved what I want to with my life and even more worrying is that I don’t really know what that is. Or that I STILL don’t know what I really want. I’ve joked for about 10 years that I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but the truth is that I grew up far too quickly when I was young and I missed out on the self discovery that most people experience at that stage in their lives.

I have written before about having a word of the year.. I think it does help to remind you of what you want more of. The idea is that you pick a word for the year that resonates with you and that you’d like to work towards. There’s no guilt because there is no wagon to fall off. It is simple and you don’t have to keep remembering it through the year but it might help you if you do set reminders for yourself of what it is. Just stating it and writing it down – maybe telling facebook or twitter will work for you or maybe set reminders in your diary. It’s your word so do what feels right for you. For me this year, I have chosen Adventure because I want to be more open to new experiences. Maybe travel but maybe not. Just experiencing different aspects of life. I’ve already got some plans for 2017 which are both personal and business related. I don’t want to share all of them but one of the things I have started on is a bucket list. And yes that is so far out of my comfort zone because I don’t like doing what everyone else is doing! Which takes me back to the whole resolutions thing that is rubbing a little…. The reason for that is that everyone is joining the gym and going on a diet and even doing dry January. Then there is me, about to join a new running group. All of my big changes are coinciding with the new year. That feels uncomfortable for me but I’ve decided that it’s OK and I will do them anyway because it’s time. Not because everyone else is doing it but because it’s right for me and that is the only time to make changes.

If it’s time for you to make some changes I would love to talk to you about them. Cygnet works with people in career transition and also those who want to get more out of life. We’ve started a weekly meditation group and we are expanding our range of services in 2017 into health and wellbeing. Contact Kelly here.

Resign Gracefully

Resign with Grace

When you are offered a new job it can be tempting to stick two fingers up at the old one and the people you haven’t been seeing eye to eye with and skip off into the sunset. It’s probably not a good idea though because unless your new job is on the moon and you aren’t ever coming back, the chances are you will see your ex-colleagues in the future and it may get really awkward. So resign gracefully and keep your work mates sweet if you can!

Imagine bumping into your past boss at a network or conference when you are with your new colleagues? Do you avoid eye contact and hope they don’t speak to you? Or do you pretend nothing has happened and you’ve always been best friends? Well that might work but it doesn’t feel very authentic. Probably the best outcome is not to get into that situation in the first place and to keep it professional when you leave.

If you don’t act professionally when you leave your job it may impact on your reference, your future job prospects and your reputation.

There may of course be situations that mean that by the time you leave you aren’t on good terms with your colleagues anyhow, but that’s for another post!

So here are Cygnet’s top tips to resign gracefully.

1. Wait until you get an offer in writing from your new employer. If you resign before you have a job offer in writing you could end up without a job.

2. Check your contract and make sure you give the appropriate amount of notice. This should be in writing and given at the same time as you give verbal notice.

3. Keep your letter polite and explain what you have gained from your time in this job, don’t just focus on the reasons you want to leave. There may be an opportunity to give feedback about why you are moving on but it’s best to do this if asked. If you are asked, be balanced and constructive – don’t just say it’s the worst job you’ve ever had!

4. Tell your manager that you’re leaving before anyone else there. It’s the professional way to behave and you don’t want Suzie in accounts to tell them before you do.

5. Hand over your work – it’s important that your work is completed and that any clients and projects have a transition that works for both sides. Make sure you aren’t the reason for any issues.

6. Be nice! Don’t criticise or be overly negative. If there are genuine negative reasons for you leaving then address them through the proper channels.

7. Work hard. It’s important that you get all your work done before you go (if it’s realistic to be able to do so) There is nothing worse for those left behind to find a pile of files that haven’t been written up / followed up / dealt with correctly after someone’s departure.

8. If you have decided to leave and are offered an incentive to stay, be straight with the person offering the opportunity – whether or not that is to consider staying or your decision to leave has been made.

9. Say Thank You to everyone who has helped you achieve your goals in the company. You never know when you will meet them again and your grace is remembered and repaid!

10. Keep sensitive information confidential. It will help you maintain trust with past and future employers.

I hope this article helps you to resign gracefully, and if you have any advice to add please do leave them in the comments. We love to hear from our readers!

When you are ready to find your new job please do get in touch with us here.

Testimonial about Cygnet – KG from South Shields

I attended a course at South Tyneside CVS and it was an enjoyable experience for me, without added pressure, whilst seeking employment. I’ve been an agency worker for 7yrs after redundancy and finding a permanent contract is challenging, but I’ve done it! The sessions included a diverse group of people, all from very different backgrounds but all with the same goals… to have a belonging and purpose in suitable employment. It was interesting to meet other individuals in an unpleasant predicament, that shared all similar values and aspirations. The workshops that Kelly facilitates are a person-centered approach, therefore people can relate more, as it’s not the usual “generic tickbox”

KG – South Shields


Town Planner to Blue Kayak

Told to us by Josephine Ellis

Josephine Ellis - Blue Kayak

I’ve said before that I became self-employed by accident. That’s not entirely true. I became self-employed when, to my great surprise, it presented itself as the best option for me, personally and professionally.

I worked in local government for ten years, mostly in roles relating to the environment and community, and re-trained as a town planner in 2005-7. People sometimes think town planning must be dull. I say that if it is, it’s not planning you’re doing – it’s administration. Real spatial planning is about our relationship with where we live. Who isn’t fascinated by his or her home turf? We all care about whether we can find somewhere to live, what it looks like, and whether we can get from A to B. And we all care, or at any rate, should, about how we can make our towns and cities cleaner and greener, reduce carbon emissions, and protect habitats and wildlife.

However, when I was working as a local authority town planner, I came to feel that my job was about administration. I really wanted to work for better urban design and sustainable transport, but, instead, passed my days plodding through procedures. The first time I applied for voluntary redundancy, the boss asked me to withdraw my application; the second time, I suppose he must’ve realised I meant it.

Naturally, I started applying for jobs. Now, I’ve heard it said that you never get a job you don’t really want. That’s not entirely true – most of us, I imagine, have got jobs stacking shelves or filing correspondence that we were profoundly apathetic about – but things are different at a professional level, and, well, I didn’t really want any of the jobs I applied for, and I didn’t get them.

I was unemployed for three months. Then I received an email from a friend and former colleague, who worked for Durham Heritage Coast – a regeneration project in East Durham. He asked me to write his business plan for him.
I’d never done anything of the sort before. But I did know what the Heritage Coast did, and appreciated that it needed to demonstrate to the world how it was funded, and what it did with its money. I worked out a framework for this, and my friend provided me with the information I needed to fill in the gaps. It all worked out fine.

Similarly, following a chance conversation with another former colleague, I ended up fundraising for and managing a community development project. We gave people a taster of what it is like to run a small business by encouraging them to develop their craft or food skills, and then organising a community market for them to sell their wares. I’d never done that before, either, but I’d organised community consultation events.

I’m currently in discussions with a couple of environmental organisations, talking about how I can help them with their campaigning and strategy. This is really returning to my first love – talking about people and their environment.

Perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve got on, though, is that I’ve been asked to do some geography teaching at Northumbria University. It’ll mean teaching myself how to use a program that I hadn’t ever seen a couple of weeks ago, and getting to grips with some important local planning issues.

In each of the jobs I’ve done, I’ve found out that some skills and experience that I didn’t even count among my good points are actually really important. Things like the ability to organise, to think ahead, and to take on board a lot of information and put it into a more easily-digestible form. And my return to academia and environmentalism has validated and reinvigorated my enthusiasm for planning. I’ve been very fortunate. Other people have had the faith in me that I didn’t have in myself.

I’d say to anyone who’s considering self-employment – or, to be honest, any job-seeker at all – don’t underestimate what you already can do, nor your ability to learn what, at present, you can’t. Admittedly, if your opinion of your own abilities is too high, then your arrogance might lead you to fail. But if your opinion of your own abilities is too low, you are certain to fail, because you’ll never let yourself succeed.

You can find out more about Josephine and Blue Kayak HERE.

From Spanish Beaches to Starting a Business

A Personal Career Journey, told to us by Jackie Latham

How I became Jackdaw Web Design

Once upon a time, in the days when Windows were things to be cleaned and Apples kept the doctor away, I did a degree in French and Spanish and had an absolute blast.  The opportunity to spend a year living in Spain with nothing to do but eat, drink and sunbathe (oh, and visit the university library every now and again) was not one I would have missed for the world.

But what to do afterwards?  I wasn’t good enough to be a translator, and teaching was never going to be an option for me, so I ended up applying for anything and everything.  Apparently I was too gentle to be a banker or a sales person or an NHS manager, and had no interest in retail or marketing, so the only option left was to apply for the civil service.  I aced the entrance exam and then sailed through the interview and was then put on a waiting list until a suitable appointment came up.

But to find me that suitable appointment, I had to fill a form in saying where I’d like to work. And on the bottom of that form was an extra little ticky box which said “Would you be interested in DP (data processing – we call it programming now!) training?”.  And next to the box was a little sentence that said “If you are, we’ll pay you an extra £2,000 a year”.  £2,000! That’s a fairly hefty sum now, but imagine how much that was worth in 1985? It was a no brainer.

So that’s how I got into computing.  I started work the following February at the DHSS (now the DWP) in Longbenton where I did a six week training course on COBOL and batch control languages.  And I took to it like a duck to water.

However, I didn’t take to the DHSS with quite so much enthusiasm – far too much politics and bureaucracy for my liking. And then when they started doing team building days building rafts to float down almost freezing rivers {{shudder}} I knew my time was up.

Next step was Newcastle University, where I stayed for another few years. It was a happy time, but not really an IT job – more of an admin job which I turned into an IT job by building a database and automated mailing system for their Open Days. (Typical of me – you can take the girl out of IT but you can’t take IT out of the girl!)

Then I saw an advert for British Airways who were recruiting “women returners”, and on a part-time basis too. I looked at that ad and just knew the job was mine, before I’d even filled in the application form.

And there I stayed for the next twenty years, some of them the best of my life, some of them the worst.  But even during the really bad times, I never fell out of love with IT – again, it was the politics and the bureaucracy I couldn’t handle.

So when the offer for voluntary redundancy came a couple of years ago, I decided that it was time to call it a day, and make myself a job where I could do as much IT as I liked, but with no politics and no bureaucracy.  So that’s where I am now.  I do a bit of web design, a bit of building websites, a lot of fixing broken sites, and even some IT management consultancy with some of the bigger ecommerce firms in the area.

Is it fun? Oh, yes.

Do I have bad days? Oh, yes. Web design is a fiercely competitive business, since everyone thinks they can just knock up a website, which, to be honest, they can.  The skill is in creating a website which generates business – after all, if it doesn’t it’s really not worth having.

Am I pleased I made the change? Oh, hell, yes. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Jackie Latham

Jackdaw Web Design

Looking for Work Over 50

It can be tricky looking for work when you're over 50 and you might have lost confidence. You have loads going for you though so think positively and take the steps to find success!

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Cygnet in the News

Cygnet in the News



Look! Cygnet is in the news!

We were really excited to feature in the News Guardian showing off our new business and what we have to offer which will help people who need help to change their job or who are facing redundancy, retirement or want to return to the jobs market following ill health or caring responsibilities.

The article focusses on a contract we won with Whitley Bay Big Local to co-ordinate their volunteers. Of course volunteering is a great way to learn new skills and can help you change your job, particularly if you need to expand on skills and knowledge to move into a different role. Volunteering can help you gain that valuable experience and can also help you if you need references to get back to work.

We also work with companies who are making redundancies to help their staff move into alternative roles and individuals who want to take control and find a different job.

We are looking for case studies, so if you’d like to work with us and get some publicity, get in touch as we would love to feature you in our news!

If we can help you with this please get in touch through out contact form.

Set Your Goals For 2015

Set Your Goals For 2015

As we hurtle ever closer to 2015, many of us will be thinking of new years resolutions, setting intentions or asking the universe for the things we would like to see more of.  If you have had a difficult time in 2014 I am guessing you will be pleased to welcome in a new year and a new start.  For me, I don’t place as much importance on the new year as I know other people do, however I will be setting some intentions and goals for myself and for my business in 2015.  The benefits of doing this is that it can give you focus and help to keep you on track and motivated to achieve what you hope to in the future.  Without a goal you can end up being distracted by other things that happen in life and then not achieve what you had hoped to.  For example, how many times have you logged onto the internet for a specific piece of information only to get distracted by something else and before you know it an hour has gone by and you haven’t found out the information you went on to get?  This is a simplistic example but this can happen in our lives if we don’t have a goal or an overall objective.

Goal setting can be difficult – how will you know what opportunities will present themselves during the year?  A year is a long time! There are ways to deal with all of the issues you might face, and I will look at those things below.

  • An overall wish for the year is a good place to start.  This can be as creative and out there as you like.  Many people will say something like “I’d like to win the lottery so I can retire.” If anyone says this to me, I challenge it.  Do you really want to win the lottery?  Look at some of the problems past lottery winners have faced…….
  • Once you have a large goal it is beneficial to break it down into achievable smaller goals.  These should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time limited). I think this can be tricky but with a little bit of guesswork and information gathering it can be done.
  • Now think about your goal.  Does it match with your values?  Is it really realistic?
  • The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.  This is where you try it out.  If it doesn’t work, that’s OK.  Goals should not be set to be later used as a stick to beat yourself up with – be kind to yourself.  If something isn’t working review the goal and ask why it didn’t work.
  • Once you have done this, it’s important to revisit your goals and tweak them.  Change whatever needs to be changed and carry on as before.
  • Repeat this process throughout the year.
  • If a new opportunity presents itself, ask if it fits in with your goals.  If it does great! If it doesn’t, do you need to think about changing your goals again?  Remember to ask if the new opportunity fits in with the values you had when setting your goals.  Have your priorities changed?
  • So in summary, a goal plan is very much a live document, to be changed and reviewed regularly.
  • Staying motivated can be difficult, so this is why the goal must fit with your values and what you want to achieve. This is the reason that SMART is so important.

Goal setting can be tricky.  But by thinking out what you want to achieve it can help you stay focussed.  I run sessions on goal setting, so if you would like to know more, please get in touch.

If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favourable.