Fiona Murphy's story
In May 2006, 19-year old Fiona Murphy, a deputy Head Girl in her final year of school, was busy studying for her A-levels and hoping to go to university in the autumn. After a night out in Newry she was tragically struck by a car, leaving her with a traumatic brain injury which prevented her from going on to further her studies as planned.
11 years later, Fiona, now aged 30, has travelled a long journey to recovery. After years of rehabilitation to re-learn how to walk, talk, write and eat she now lives independently in her own home. Her focus is on getting into work, with support from local charity The Cedar Foundation.
Steps to recovery
In May 2016 Fiona joined Cedar’s Southern ‘Inclusion Works’ programme after being referred by her Occupational Therapist from the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team. Up to this point Fiona had taken part in voluntary placements with Lee Opticians and Newry Credit Union, both of which had proven valuable in supporting Fiona’s recovery. However, Fiona felt that she would like support to plan her next steps to reach her full potential for work.
‘Inclusion Works’ is a person-centred service supporting individuals to design their own programmes around their needs and aspirations, building confidence and independence to meet their employability and inclusion goals. This project is part funded through the Northern Ireland European Social Fund Programme 2014 – 2020 and the Department for the Economy.
After meeting her Cedar Case Officer, Danielle, they quickly agreed an action plan that included identifying a number of new voluntary placements to test out work options for Fiona. As she had previous experience of retail from part-time jobs she had while at school she felt this was an area where she would like to gain more experience. Together, Fiona and Danielle set objectives of Fiona returning to paid employment (through some trial voluntary placements) and engaging in community activity to build her employability skills. During her time on the programme, Fiona has learnt new strategies such as stress management, memory processing and fatigue management, and has gained accreditation in OCR Life & Living Skills.
As Fiona still enjoyed working in the Credit Union, Danielle supported her to create a schedule which would allow her to keep this role alongside developing retail skills. Danielle secured work placements for Fiona in a local boutique, Berling, and in M&S Newry. This involved meeting with both businesses ahead of Fiona beginning work to discuss her specific support needs, objectives and limitations.
Danielle commented: "It is my role as Case Officer to ensure Fiona knows what is expected of her in terms of starting times, presentation, codes of conduct etc. Also, I make sure she knows what her duties are and who she should go to if she is unsure of something in the workplace.
"I carried out a risk assessment in each placement and also helped her to familiarise herself with the floor plan in M&S Newry as it is quite a large building. Both Berling and M&S have been very accommodating to Fiona’s needs and have put solid and practical processes in place to support her development."
Fiona said: "Before I started working with Cedar I had no confidence. I was very shy and didn’t like speaking to new people. I was happy to let other people speak for me. Now I interact with customers and feel comfortable answering their questions, or going to find out the answers if I don’t know. It has always been my dream to work in M&S and I really enjoy it, as well as working in Berling.
"I carry out a range of tasks such as setting out stock, helping with deliveries and assisting in the fitting rooms. I enjoy getting to know other staff members and customers in both shops. I lost touch with a lot of my friends after the accident as they went on to university and work life so as well as helping me to develop, the work placements have also helped me to meet new people."
Aisling Rafferty, owner of Berling, had this to say: "The duties in our shop change every day and Fiona adapts very well. She is a natural stylist, creating outfits for display mannequins, and she is able to add suitable accessories. She interacts well with the customers and gives good advice as needed."
Siobhan Ruck, M&S Newry Store Manager, noted: "At M&S we’re committed to supporting people who face barriers to work, through training and work experience placements in our stores and offices, and we’re really proud to be working with a partner like the Cedar Foundation. Since Fiona joined us she has been a great asset to the team at M&S Newry. She has really grown in confidence and is great with customers – we’re lucky to have her!"
Fiona is keen for her story to be shared as she would like other people living with the effects of a Brain Injury to know that there is hope after discharge from hospital. The co-ordinated approach taken by Cedar and the Acquired Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team has meant that it has been possible to harness support from three local businesses who have not only provided much appreciated support to Fiona, but have also benefitted from the relationship with Fiona and Cedar.
If you require any additional information about how to get involved with the Inclusion Works service please email email@example.com or phone 028 9061 2424 or 028 3026 3791.