Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Nostalgia Factory

My employment history is... um... chequered. I don't know if I just rub people up the wrong way or if I'm just an arrogant bastard, but I have an employment history that makes me cringe at times. But, to be fair and to put it in perspective, I also have a past where I have been very unlucky and have worked for some CAUCs.

Obviously I can't really talk about my current job, but, if I did most of it would be positive. I'm not going to talk about my 11 odd years in publishing, because I've already written a book about that which runs to 130,000+ words and that missed a lot out. Maybe when the arsehole who I worked for has died and I don't have to worry about a malicious lawsuit (which he would pursue even if it meant spending the last penny in his pocket), but for now I will just continue to embellish the story with more and more nuggets from my memory.

I could talk about working for TNT, but as that lasted 3 hours I'd be hard pressed to make it last longer than this sentence. Equally, I could talk about the job I had when I got married, but that story fits in with another I'm not talking about just yet; or I could mention my 3 months at Levi's; a job where I got sacked because I complained about them not training me to do a job I was employed to do. But, again, that wouldn't really amount to more than a small paragraph.

I could talk about Initial and Bill Port, the man who called me a 'useless wanker' and wouldn't have been wrong, but he did so in a really malicious and nasty way. Bill was responsible, in a roundabout way, for me opening my shop; so while I have zero respect for him and hope he's long since died, without him I might not be where I am today (crippled and staring at redundancy).

I could waffle on about the 2 years I worked for my dad, behind bars (social club, not prison), or the subsequent part time jobs I had as a barman up till I met the wife. I could regale you with a fantastic story about working at Lings Forum when I was 17 and one day I might. The only problem with retelling this story is that the arsehole responsible for me getting the sack is now the wife's brother-in-law and while I always said I'd never forgive the bastard... I have. But only because he's married to my sister-in-law and I believe that is karma working at its best.

It seems that talking about my employment history has baggage attached, whatever job I've done. Except maybe for the YMCA. I have wanted to write this for a long time but figured it was a futile and pointless exercise unless there was a pay off. Now, it seems there is...

After walking out of my publishing/editorial job (he says he fired me, I say I quit), I had a few months of being unemployed. I couldn't get a job doing what I had been doing because being an editor for a comics magazine holds absolutely no truck with serious publishers and publications. It's a little like going for a job as a butcher on the basis that I gnawed a bone once - or at least that's the impression I got. There was an ignominy about it and it took me about a week to realise it. My journalistic career, regardless of how much money it paid me and the respect I earned in the comics 'industry', didn't amount to a bean, let alone a hill of them. I was faced with the prospect of being 39 and having no career.

The wife and I were becoming so poor we were having to shop at a place where we shopped at anyhow, but were now watching the pennies and buying frugally. Daily Bread is a co-operative, is still there and sells cheap vegetarian staples. It was now a requirement rather than a occasional detour. It was a cold February morning and we were heading back to the car when we bumped into our good, but not often seen, friends Ian and Sarah. Ian was a pagan weirdo and Sarah was the ex of my former best friend. They had found each other and were happy, despite their hang ups. Sarah was a part time counsellor, Ian, formerly of British Rail, has somehow managed to change his entire life around and was now CEO of the Northampton YMCA.

Northampton YMCA in 2001 was an unusual beast. It was largely autonomous from the rest of the YMCA movement. It made money through a mega-successful homeless housing scheme and it was run by 80% non-Christians. Ian, not a Christian, felt that the best people to hire were the best people to do the job, not the best Christians to do the job and subsequently Northampton YMCA had won numerous awards and retained the respect of just about anyone who mattered. The fact that Ian often turned up for work in a dress, or had more jewellery than Ratner's was neither here nor there, what mattered was the fact that he got homeless kids off the street and eventually through his team of caring and dedicated staff turned them into useful members of society.

So, we're standing outside Daily Bread and they ask me how things are going and we told them how it was. Sarah suggested, I thought jokingly, that I went and worked for Ian and he seemed up for it. "But... But, I'm not working with scum bags!" Says I.
"I think you'd do well at it," says Sarah and Ian agreed. My wife gave me a stern look and reminded me that I was currently not earning a brass farthing. I weighed it up in my head and agreed to go along and do a volunteer session, figuring that I could say I hated it and the subject would never be mentioned again.

I turned up at St Matthew's Hostel at midday on the 15th February. I was scheduled to do a maximum of 2 hours to allow the staff to hold a meeting. If there was any problems I was to interrupt them, otherwise I was on my own.

At 6.45pm, Rose Stewart the manageress came up to me and said that the wife had phoned to see if I was okay and that I really should consider going home. She was over the moon about me; said that I was a natural (as did Sarah) and said that as soon as my CRB was cleared I'd be offered shifts. I started working for the YMCA on March 3rd with a two day induction course. I was offered a full time job in the March of the following year and for a while the team that worked at St Matt's were 2nd to none. We were good; we were an excellent team and everyone loved everyone else.

I went in, voluntarily, on Christmas day to cook the residents' dinner and was just a phone call away from being there in case of sickness or emergency. It didn't change after I got a full time job there. But by the summer of 2002 things started to change. The YMCA was so successful we were offered more money to expand the services and new staff joined the team. We didn't really need them. It actually had a negative affect on work and many of us found that the jobs we had that worked well for one person, didn't work well for two. A perfect example was the night shift. Prior to the influx of extra cash, we had a sleepover rota. If you were on sleepover, you basically crashed out about 1:00am, got up about 7.30 and went home when the morning shift turned up. There was an emergency bell to ring if the residents needed help or attention, but nine times out of ten no one was disturbed. Yeah, they would try it on with new staff or agency, but if you were one of the regulars, you were respected. The new money meant an extra night staff, who didn't go to sleep and subsequently got bored out of their minds with no company.

By the end of 2002, the Christians had started to look at Northampton YMCA under the microscope. It was a fantastic advert for the work they could do, but it was run by a hippie and a lot of his staff were not, how shall we say, very spiritual. They shafted Ian, reorganised the structure of the YMCA and made it so that he had to reapply for his own job, knowing full well even though he was the best choice, he wouldn't get it. Over 4 months, they fucked him about left right and centre until they appointed a man called Storey in his place. Ian was offered a senior role at Connexions and the YMCA changed tact completely.

I applied for a different job at the Y, got it, and so moved away from St Matt's and into Cheyne Walk. The new CEO changed the operating practice of the place and suddenly new residents had to be offered 'spiritual guidance' if they required it and to determine whether they required it, it became part of the interview process. If homeless people weren't already God botherers, they sort of faced a dilemma - become one or risk not being offered a room. This was never a written rule, but it was inferred to us in team meetings. We also noticed that more and more new members of staff had more experience being religious than they did as experienced workers with the homeless. People started to become concerned.

In the winter of 2004, my mate Jon became the target of some unwanted attention from my new line manager. Jon, who I'm told is a good looking fella, found he was increasingly being put in awkward positions. Comments were made, surreptitious gestures made, little touches, that were not welcomed, were made. Jon became literally scared because my boss - a moose of a woman - was now suggesting that unless he gave her a 'good time' he might find he has problems in his job. Both me and another colleague witnessed her sexual bullying and inappropriate behaviour and when she finally made the aforementioned ultimatum, Jon decided to take it to senior management. My boss had been hand picked for her job by the new CEO. She was a member of his church and was clearly not experienced enough to do her job. In fact, I was more experienced than her.

An investigation was conducted; people were interviewed and the evidence against her was both damning and numerous. The investigation team concluded that she had done nothing wrong and that it was misinterpretation by Jon and his witnesses. We were amazed.

In the spring of 2004, Jon followed the book on an unruly and drunk resident. He did everything that was expected of him and laid down in the policy and procedures handbook. He ejected a drunk and violent resident from the hostel on a cold March night. The CEO arrived at 7:00am the next morning and found the resident sitting on the main steps, breaking milk bottles and freezing his arse off. He stormed up to the hostel office, refused to listen to the reasons for the ejection and suspended Jon for misconduct. Jon, totally fucked up by this, quit without fighting. He concluded that it wasn't worth it. If they refused to see that he had been sexually intimidated, they weren't going to rule for him in this case.

Three weeks later, I was in a team meeting when I made a sarcastic remark about Supporting People - one of the organisations that funded us. We were due an inspection by them and I commented that previous inspections had been a waste of time because their inspectors didn't have a clue what they were looking for and we might as well just carry on regardless. I was thrown a stern look by my boss. This was at 10:00am. At 12:15 the same day, one of the senior managers called me into her office and told me that I was being disciplined for remarks made. I stormed out of her office and confronted my own boss in her office. During our heated argument, she said a remark that was something like - you should never have sided with Jon - so I went back to the senior manager's office, repeated what had just been said to me and asked to put a grievance in about my boss. I felt this was proof that I was being picked on. Two days later, my boss handed in her notice, took her remaining holiday and never came back to work!

The following Monday, our colleague who had also defended Jon in his sexual harassment case was told she was being let go and her contract was not being renewed. She was an excellent worker and all the residents loved her. In fact, you could not find fault in any of her work. The main reason for her dismissal was because the management didn't feel she was cut out for this kind of work!!!

I remember talking to my mate Paul Smith that day and saying that I'd better watch my back because I was going to be next. He said for me not to make jokes like that because stranger things have happened.

On the Wednesday, the senior manager called me into her office and told me I was being suspended - on full pay - because there had been an accusation, an allegation, made about my by one of the residents. Gobsmacked, I asked what the allegation was and was told I couldn't be told until they had time to speak with the resident themselves. I got home and both me and the wife were shell-shocked. I had an allegation made against me and no one would tell me what it was. I phoned Ian up and told him, he said that they could not suspend me without telling me what the allegation was and that I should ring the boss up straight away and demand to know what the allegation was. I did this and she said she would call round my house on the way home to talk to me.

She admitted that when she had suspended me she didn't know what the allegation was, only that her boss had authorised it. She had gone to see her boss - the 2nd in charge - after I'd called and he told her that I was being suspended because a former resident had claimed that I had told her that my boss had been sacked and that I was going to replace her. it was claimed that this happened while my boss was being investigated on the sexual harassment charges. I explained to the senior manager that I had not seen the resident in question since the previous Christmas, long before any of this had happened. She suggested I got myself a lawyer.

This was April 2004. I was suspended but didn't hear a thing for two months, so at the beginning of June, feeling like I was in limbo, unable to go away on holiday because the details of my suspension meant I had to be available at a moments notice, I decided to contact the senior manager and ask her what the fuck was going on. I was informed that she was on two weeks holiday and nothing was likely to happen until she got back. I was furious. I felt like I was being fucked about, so I contacted the CEO. I wrote him a long letter, asking for him to look into the situation. Within a week, a hearing was scheduled and I took Roger along as my witness and to act like a lawyer type person. The allegations were made, I answered them and the meeting concluded.

Two weeks later, I was invited to a meeting with the CEO. I chose to take Paul Smith (a caretaker, but also an ex-union man) with me. Now, it's important that you understand the job I was doing. I was now working with young people who had moved on from the YMCA and were either living in accommodation provided by the Y or on their own. We were part of a Tenancy Support Scheme. This meant that we helped people who were no longer residents. We were also encouraged to keep in communication with them, as a sort of last resort support mechanism. This had always been the ethos of the YMCA while Ian was in charge. However, several months before my ex-boss had quit, she pulled me into her office and asked why I'd sent texts to a resident at midnight. I explained that I was replying to texts I'd received from an ex-resident because he had locked himself out of his new flat and didn't know what to do. I even had the texts to prove this. She agreed that we had a moral responsibility to help our kids if they were in trouble and the thing was forgotten about.

The meeting with the CEO went very badly. He informed me that there was not enough evidence to prove the allegations against me, but he felt that it was not a good idea to continue employing me. Paul, who was extremely religious and regarded by many to be on their 'side' stood up for me big time. The CEO then said that I had been punished for continually contacting ex-residents - we stood our ground and said there was nothing written down that we shouldn't help ex-residents in a time of crisis and that it was actively encouraged for people in my specific job. The CEO ignored this. Paul then intervened and asked what exactly the YMCA wanted of me. "To leave," was the reply I received. I said I had done nothing wrong and had no intention of leaving. To which I was told that if I didn't leave, I would be continually suspended until they got something on me where they could fire me. Paul was disgusted, I was totally amazed. This was a deeply religious man sitting in front of me - a Christian.

I asked what were they prepared to offer me to leave and this is where things got even more interesting. I was told if I agreed to leave, the YMCA would offer me a severance package that suited me. I was to go away while he spoke with his colleagues and they would be in touch within the week. And so they were. I was offered two weeks money and a one line reference stating that I had worked for the YMCA between date A and date B. I told them to stick it up their arses and that I was going to see my lawyer.

They got back to me with a new offer and I still got in touch with a solicitor who, like the wife, wanted me to sue their arses off. But, I had already decided that this was not what I wanted to do. After much negotiation, we agreed that on a package totalling over £5000 and the guarantee of a good reference highlighting all the achievements I had while I was working there. I signed a piece of paper that prevented me from taking them to court and we parted company.

However, I struggled to get a job in the care industry. I was going for jobs I was totally qualified to do yet wasn't even getting an interview. I felt that perhaps the YMCA had reneged on their side of the deal. On failing to get a job at a local hostel which i had had a successful interview for, I contacted them and asked why I'd been unsuccessful. I was told that I was perfect for the job, but there was a line at the end of my reference from the YMCA that caused them to not offer me it. The line said: "Mr Hall left the YMCA by mutual consent" - this had not been on the original reference I was shown. I was about to get my solicitor to fuck them over big time, when the Mayday Trust offered me the job of Deputy Manager at their hostel in Wellingborough. I figured they were not as bothered by the offending line as others and saw that I was the right person for the job.

Three weeks into working at Mayday, the area manager came into the office and asked to see me. He wanted me to explain what this superfluous line at the end of my reference pertained to. I them had to write a statement out explaining why I'd left the YMCA; what entailed, in fact, everything above was submitted to them and I was told that I still may lose my job. I informed Mayday that I intended to sue the YMCA if I did lose my job, because they had added that line without my knowledge or agreement. It was concluded that as I was offered a lot of money to leave, that I was not in the wrong and had done nothing to warrant the treatment. I kept my job, but I felt like I had to work very hard to do it. The wife still wanted me to get a lawyer onto the Y. It seemed that while I kept my position at Mayday, the reference from the YMCA had caused enough smoke for someone to think there was a fire. I just wanted to forget about it; suing seemed like a fruitless exercise.

Sadly, both Sarah and Paul have since died. If it hadn't been for Sarah I wouldn't be working in this industry and if it hadn't been for Paul, I might not have been as good as I became or got as much actually and spiritually from it.

In September 2010, I learned that all of the YMCA's funding had been lost and that the CEO and many of the deeply religious lackeys who he put in position rather than the people who could actually do the job were losing their jobs. It was sad that some of the excellent people still working there will also lose their jobs come March, but karma has swung around and bitten these hypocrites on the arse big time. I hope that none of them find a job easily and the ones who fucked me over never work again, lose their houses and get sent to Hell by an astute St Peter. It's what they deserved for being evil Christians. And we worry about Muslims and other religious fundamentalists - fucking Christians are just as insidious and evil.

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