October 2006. For the first time in my adult life, I was unemployed. This was not a situation I had ever expected to be in. I’d had a good job, with people I liked, and had to leave. I was hurt, confused, angry, and scared. I didn’t have any source of income, and yet I had a mortgage and bills to pay. Whilst grieving over something I’d lost, I had to move quicky to get a new job.
Recruitment agencies were everywhere in the high street, and they certainly did me a service back in 2006. It wasn’t long before I had a job to go to; a temp job, perhaps, but that didn’t matter. I had an income again!
I was workeing for a fostering agency called FSG; this was at a time when foster carers finally had a choice to be registered either with a council or with a private agency (designed to give more choice to foster carers who previously had to be registered with a council).
FSG was in the process of being sold to Care UK; one of the behemoths in the social care sector. The agency up until that point had been entirely self-sufficient; it had everything it needed (social workers, managers, therapists, admin, finance) inhouse employed directly by the agency. I came in on a six-month contract to give some extra support to the admin team as everything changed around the agency.
I was glad of it; relief was the greatest emotion when I was offered the job. I had some security while I thought about what was next. At the time, FSG was going to be a stop-gap, a temporary measure, and I later regretted that attitude. This job did have the potential to develop into something long-term, but I wasn’t ready to consider that at the time; I was still grieving from the loss of my last job.
It took me two years, I think, to calm down from that place of intense insecurity and be willing to invest in a job for a long period of time. In the intervening two years, it meant I moved around and – undoubtedly – missed out on opportunities because I was always looking for something else, something “safer”.
But I was treated kindly and respectfully by my colleagues at FSG. I worked with carers to make sure all their legal checks were in order, and also helped out with some IT issues (that training I’d had in the libraries five or six years before was a boon). I even got to go on a conference somewhere up north to meet other parts of the Care UK “family”.
That was an experience; I wasn’t much of a traveller at that point. I hadn’t gone anywhere in the UK north of the Watford Gap, and had managed to get to the age of 25 without travelling any distance at all without my family. Okay, this was only a one-night stopover somewhere in the north, mostly seeing the inside of a conference cente on an anonymous industrial estate, but still – it was a new challenge.
My brain, however, wasn’t quite sure what to make of this experience. When I’m stressed or anxious, I sometimes sleepwalk, and in the hotel that night, I got out of bed (still asleep) and tried to escape out the front door. Thankfully, my sleep-addled brain didn’t seem able to work out the lock, so directed me back to bed – but when I couldn’t find the bed (don’t ask), I went to sleep in the wardrobe instead, and that was where I found myself the following morning.
I made the mistake of mentioning it to my colleagues who had also gone to the conference – including our managing director. When we were all introduced to the rest of Care UK later that morning, I was introduced as “Matthew, our administrator, who likes to sleep in wardrobes whenever he stays in hotels.” I was fending questions off about that for the rest of the day.
The six months I spent there were lovely; I made some very good friends who became drinking buddies of mine for the next few years, and I was working back in Margate – opposite, funnily enough, Margate Library. It gave me a certain sense of satisfaction to be so close to it again, little knowing that the library would feature again in my career just two years later.
Towards the end of the six months, I was looking for other work; this job was only temporary, after all, and I didn’t know what the future held. The reorganisation was coming to an end, but I didn’t want to be in the same situation six months before; I needed to ensure that I was in work – and so I successfully interviewed for another job elsewhere.
The managing director was very kind and generous; he told me that he had been planning to offer to a full-time, permanent job, which caught me off-guard. I was very honoured to be considered for it, but I was already set on the new job; I had given an assurance I would be starting, and I felt an obligation to it. Oh how wrong I was; I should have taken the offer of the job with FSG, but since I had no clairvoyant skills, I couldn’t see what was about to happen. So I said goodbye to my fostering colleagues and went excitedly to a new job, that I hoped would be the beginning of a new career – but I was incredibly wrong.