Specsavers Cheltenham is continuing its support for the Going the Extra Mile (GEM) Project; an initiative run by the Gloucestershire Gateway Trust which helps people dealing with circumstances that are potentially causing barriers to them finding employment. The store is employing a number of participants, one of them being James Tombs.

James’ story

James has a learning disability, and six months ago he couldn’t read or write. Keen to work, he had delivered telephone directories in the past and volunteered for many organisations, but his dream was to find a paid job and to be part of a team. James explained: ‘I handed out lots of CVs and went for loads of interviews, but nobody wanted me.’

Last year, James met GEM Navigator Developer, Joe, through the National Star College. ‘Joe was really helpful. He said I can always talk to him about any concerns. He took me to interview practice, which really helped when I came to Specsavers,’ added James.

Specsavers were delighted to create a role for James, who now works in the lab cleaning glasses, putting them in the right cases and getting them ready for collection. 

James continued: ‘The GEM project has really helped me. I’m so happy to finally get a chance. It’s nice that someone can see beyond the disability, and that’s all people like us need.’

Proud staff

‘James is such a valued member of the team,’ said Emily Ashman, PR Co-ordinator from Specsavers Cheltenham. ‘He’s reliable, thoughtful and puts a smile on everyone’s face. In the last few months, he’s also started recognising letters and numbers more and has been learning to read through Read Easy. We’re very proud of him.’

Store director, Melanie Brackstone, said: ‘James has made excellent progress in the time he’s been working at Specsavers. Not only does the lab team enjoy working with him, but everyone else has really felt the benefit of having him around. It’s helped to bring us all even closer together.’

James’ progression

James recently attended a jobs fair at the Jobcentre Plus with other members of the team. He was asked to say a few words about the GEM Project and Disability Confident; a government scheme that is designed to help employers recruit and retain people with disabilities.

Showing just how far he’s come, James stood up and spoke to an entire room of people, including recruitment agents and employers, about his journey into work. His speech moved lots of people and not only was he congratulated afterwards, a few of the employers even signed up to the Disability Confident Scheme there and then. 

Charity initiative

The GEM Project provides dedicated and specialised help, guidance and support, for each individual enrolled on the project, from transport and childcare costs to support with any disabilities and mental health issues. This helps them to develop life skills, self-esteem and motivation while overcoming any practical barriers to engagement to help them move closer towards or into employment. The GEM Project is jointly funded by the Big Lottery Fund and European Social Fund. 

‘We wholeheartedly recommend the GEM Project to other businesses,’ continued Melanie. ‘Not only do you feel like you are helping people get into work, but the benefits to your business cannot be underestimated. Team morale has noticeably improved.’

All Cheltenham store information