Social prescribing has given me my hope back

After decades of creating exquisite wedding dresses, Despina Stylianou was in so much pain she had to give up the career she loved. The loss of her job, income and independence hit her hard.

But thanks to help from the NHS and her community, she is making a new start and is now looking forward to the future again.

Mother of two and grandmother of three Despina, from Chigwell in Redbridge, was just 18 when she started work in the bridal industry.

Seeing thrilled brides and their families filled her with joy. But hours placing beads on multi-layered fabric and kneeling to pin hems and seams took its toll on her hands and feet. When they became too painful for her to show colleagues how to do the work, she gave in her notice.

That is when her GP put her in touch with Thania Begum, social prescribing link worker at Fairlop Primary Care Network in Chigwell.

As a social prescriber, Thania’s role is to connect people who have a mix of medical and non-medical problems with local support.

With almost a decade to go until she can draw her pension, Despina’s priorities were to find work, get immediate financial support, and continue being there for her family, including translating for her Greek-speaking parents at NHS appointments.

Thania listened, advised and stayed in touch over the months as many of Despina’s applications for jobs or support were rejected or got no response.

Then she suggested Despina contact a Maximus training scheme offered by the JobCentre. Despina was given a four-day trial as a nursery worker with babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers – and loved it.

“It’s completely different from anything I have ever done and I thought it was great,” she says. “I don’t think I would have thought of it if this trial hadn’t been offered.”

She has now been taken on as an apprentice, working towards childcare qualifications which could potentially lead to management opportunities in the long term.

“I can see a whole new career ahead of me now,” she says. “It has given me my hope back.”

UPDATED: 06/03/2023