Meet Louise Ellis-Lane, Vocational Skills Instructor

We are getting to know the wonderful people who make up the Workbridge family – the characters who, on a daily basis, make Workbridge the warm and supportive environment that it is, where people develop skills and realise their potential.

Meet Louise Ellis-Lane, Vocational Skills Instructor, who has led the way in establishing Workbridge as award winners at the prestigious Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards...

How long have you worked at St Andrew’s Healthcare and Workbridge, and what did you do before?

This September, 2018, I will have worked at St Andrew’s for 20 years!

After leaving school in 1983 I gained a place at Art College to study interior design, however I turned it down as none of my friends went on to college – they all moved into jobs and I just followed suit.

I had a job in a shoe factory and I actually put the eyelets in the most expensive pair of golfing shoes at the time, which went into the Guinness Book of Records! I then went on to work in the catering trade, eventually becoming head chef.

What led you to those roles, and eventually to Workbridge?

I have always cooked and baked so catering was a natural choice, but I had always had an interest in mental health and the effects it can have on so many people, after a close friend suffered badly after leaving school.

Through my work within the adolescent service I found I had a passion for recovery, helping to get people back on their feet and make a difference to the rest of their lives, and this led to volunteering at Workbridge and eventually working here.

Can you describe a typical day for you?

I am part of three exciting new workshops; textiles, charity shop and bakery, so my days vary considerably.

Within textiles we are focusing on recycling – as they say, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure! – and we make Mors bags out of disused curtains and fabric. These are given away free in the charity shop, which is to help to eliminate the use of plastic bags.

Fact: Over one million plastic bags are consumed per minute!

We also recycle picture frames and old furniture with paper, paint and glitter, plus lots more.

We have sessions in the charity shop, and they are going great and giving lots of service users confidence within a retail environment; plus we can utilise lots of the unwanted items in the textiles department.

And the bakery is teaching our people baking skills – making bread, scones, cakes and cookies, giving us lots to try and perfect.

What are the main benefits that people get from the sessions you oversee?

Self-belief and recognition for their efforts, seeing the look of joy on someone’s face when they finish a project or get through a day’s work is priceless.

Do you have any favourite moments of your time at Workbridge with the service users?

Yes, when we were announced as finalists of the Northamptonshire Food and Drink Awards Independent Café/Tea Room of the Year we were invited to a black tie event at the Royal and Derngate.

To get there, myself and a catering service user, Darren, took part in a bake-off at Northampton College and we were invited along with Darren’s family to the evening.

It was so exciting waiting with baited breath to hear if we had won, and when they announced that we had won Darren’s face was a picture. It truly brought tears to my eyes seeing his face. He forgot all of his nerves and was first on the stage to collect our award, and that is a feeling I will never forget.

What do the awards mean to you?

Winning two awards for Workbridge will always make me feel so proud of being part of such a great and diverse team.

How do you approach the awards?

When I am asked to participate in the competitions I will discuss with my manager the best way we can involve service users and staff, because although the finished product may have come from me, it takes a huge group effort to get to that point.

We all work together. Everyone’s ideas and opinions matter. Staff help me while I prepared for the events and service users assist in many ways, either participating, designing, or just discussing what they had in mind for the project.

For this year’s Royal Showstopper cake, we held a competition for service users to design the wedding cake and, as they all did such a great job, they will all be invited to attend a cupcake decoration masterclass.

Service users also worked with staff to not only produce sugar paste butterflies and daises but also to design a canvas of the designs and create a marvellous portfolio of the original artwork.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

In all that I do I get my inspiration from all the service users and colleagues I work with. We are such a diverse bunch that you can’t fail to feel inspired on a daily basis, in fact I can’t keep up with the ideas that pop into my head!

Just finding things to do and create that will suit all tastes and capabilities comes so easily with the warm supportive family atmosphere that you feel at Workbridge.

Can you describe what Workbridge means to you in three to five words?

Meaningful, rewarding, supportive, accepting, and absolutely marvellous. That’s more than five, but I really do love my job.

Read more: Meet Kate Allen, Employment Support Assistant