This week, we commemorate the Women of the House who have gone through our Employment Preparation Programme to carve careers where they inspire others through their leadership, creativity and dedication. Here’s their story.
Jacqui O’Shea – Floor Supervisor
I lived in the States for around 33 years. One day, I went to renew a driver’s license and they told me my Visa was invalid: I’d been living for over 30 years on a “non-existent” Visa. They followed this up by sending three SUV vehicles to my address, where three big armed guards took me into custody. I spent 14 months in jail waiting to be deported, and then in 2015, that’s exactly what they did. I had to leave my family behind in the States.
I landed in England on November 5th – Guy Fawkes night. I was hooked up with Prisoner’s Abroad, so when I landed, I had a place to go and people to support me. They helped me get organised and helped me to write down my career experience. Upon doing so, I was given a card to the House of St Barnabas. This was on the Wednesday, and they were recruiting for programme the following Monday.
I was recruited onto the Employment Preparation Programme the next week and started in January of 2016. I had vast experience in the hospitality sector, having started out in management when I was 19, and later gaining a degree as a chef. When I arrived in the States, I worked in country clubs, large restaurants and small venues. When my son was little, I got an office job running five different offices over two different states. But returning to the UK, it felt like the right time to get back into the hospitality industry as I fancied a change in my career path – office work can be very repetitive! In hospitality, no two days are ever the same – despite maybe seeing the same faces. I was set to graduate from the employment programme on April 6th and by April 2nd, I’d already secured a job at the BFI as a waitress. I’d only worked in the role for two weeks when they promoted me to Team Leader. I’ve always ended up being in job roles where I lead. I’m a doer: if there’s a problem, I’ll do whatever I can to fix it and I’m more than happy to guide folks through.
I was recruited back at the House in November 2017. They were doing a major renovation and they hired me as a Team Leader and then progressed to become Food & Beverage Supervisor, managing all the floor staff.
Working at the House; my thing is – if anyone makes a mistake, that’s fine as we are human, but let me know as soon as possible and I will help fix it. It means I’ve got an open, collaborative relationship where people aren’t afraid to come to me for support. I’m here if the floor staff have any problems – I want to help them get the best out of their experience. I see myself as a mentor to the staff, who are mainly international. I am open about my experience of being deported from the States and explain to them the immigration processes, stressing how important it is to settle your papers. If you in any way invalidate immigration laws, you have no rights as a citizen.
I love working here because I’ve grown with the members. It’s a community and there is continuity in that. I have my regulars – I know their usual orders; I know where they like to sit. I’ve got my pre-Covid members and my post-Covid members. I was even part of the membership tour at one point – my picture is on the walls; my experience is a part of this House. I feel like I’ve thrived here because I’ve got what I call the “hospitality spark”. I get a sense of accomplishment and joy out of helping people. If you don’t get that spark, working in hospitality means drudgery and you won’t find it rewarding. I take great pride in making people’s experiences enjoyable, it’s what I live for. The House to me is like my own home – I take pride in welcoming guests in the same way.
The House has been crucial in giving me the Home I have now and for offering me career progression. My career has been long and strange, but I’ve always ended up landing on my feet, no matter what the circumstance.
Nikol Dehaan – Graduate from our employment academy
I am a poet, photographer and author. I was born in London but shortly after moved to America. September 29th, 2018, will be a date that I will never forget. It’s the day I landed in Heathrow and returned to England. I didn’t see how I was going to lead a life here in London, I couldn’t even see myself leaving the airport. But life has its way of giving you lemons and you’ve got to make lemonade.
I got linked up with some great organisations, such as the House when I arrived. No joke, the House became a lifeline for me. Not only did they give me the skills I needed to thrive but gave me confidence in myself and the mindset that I could do anything that I put my mind to. I wanted my life back so badly that I jumped on every opportunity that came my way when I was on programme.
The House wasn’t just there for me by teaching me skills, they were also there through life events. They stood by my side during the day of graduation – I finished programme excelling due to all the love and support that was shown to me. During lockdown, they stayed connected with me through monthly calls and regular emails. They never turned their back on me.
I now serve on the advisory board for Good Work initiative, to help with ideas for other students that come through the Employment Academy. The House has given me hope that I can get my life back, even at my age. Now, moving forward, the House has connected me with great organisations that have enabled me follow the great journey I am on now.
In the last four years, since graduating from the Employment Academy with a Hospitality certificate, the progression support team helped me get a job through Youth Hostel Association, and I’m still employed there! I gained a qualification in acting and have helped produce a play about my life story, which was played at Soho Theatre. I am also a stand-up comedian – the House got me involved with Funny Women and I’ve done a few shows with them now. I’ve also just graduated from a media production foundation course with distinction from Ravensbourne University and have now progressed on to my first year in Undergraduate Photography.
My hope is to complete my education and tell the untold stories in the world of the forgotten people through documenting their lives through my photography.
Join us on Tuesday 15th March for an International Women’s Day special, as we host a book talk with Nikol Dehaan and Charlie Milligan. Find out more and book your tickets – HERE.