Furloughed Benjaimn uses his time to learn Mental Health First Aid

Benjamin Coffie has been furloughed since mid-March – and has used his time to study as a Mental Health First Aider with the support of his union, the Baker, Food and Allied Workers Union (BFAWU).

MHFA during lockdown

Benjamin works for Greggs Distribution in Enfield as a picker, selecting products to be distributed to stores across the country. With the closure of most stores and the temporary halt in production Benjamin was placed on furlough. because of the shops being closed there is no need for production. Benjamin is also a Shop Steward at the company.

BFAWU Project Worker Carol Hillaby explained:

Benjamin was furloughed by the company, and along with everyone else sent a letter which explains the furlough. It meant they were temporarily out of work, but they are getting full pay: 80% from the government and 20% from the company. They have been assured that this will run until 1st of July 2020.”

Following this Benjamin contacted me to do a Mental Health course that we have been running through the union.”

The course on offer from the BFAWU to members is the full Level 2 Mental Health First Aid course. Carol had sent details of this course around to all the sites she covers and when Benjamin saw it he asked if he could be enrolled.

Carol explained that he worked hard to complete the course at home and, despite a busy household, found time to complete all the work that had been set. He is currently waiting for it to be marked.

Carol said that the BFAWU are seeing more people interested in these sort of courses and qualifications. Carol said:

We have been working hard on the Mental Health issues with our Mental Health Awareness days, we started with five arranged but over 2019 it must have been around 50 nationally, all sites wanted it and many have either moved onto the Mental Health First Aid or were planning it before Covid hit.”

Carol has had requests from a number of employers for future courses to be set up when it’s possible, and would normally visit workplaces to sign up new learners and work through the enrolment process with them, but the current situation has meant that is impossible.

Carol explained:

When Benjamin expressed an interest in the Mental Health course I sent his information through to Julie in our Learning Team office to be enrolled. I was a little worried about distance enrolment as I wasn’t there to explain how this happens, so I emailed him the process of enrolling on line, what he would need and then put together a step by step guide for accessing the course just to make the process a little easier.”

I spoke to him later and he had completed the enrolment with the help of the guidance notes found it easy and thanked me for all my help.”

I’ve never met Benjamin; he is one of our shop stewards in Greggs but he has been so helpful and looking forward to meeting him eventually when things settle down.”

Benjamin said it had been a busy time for him and his partner as they are looking after their children with schoolwork, and at one point they also came down with symptoms. But he has found the time to study.  

I signed up for the Mental Health course trying to up-skilling myself whilst on furlough. The furlough has been good for me with the support from Greggs and the government but I’m worried that if the lockdown is not relaxed soon I’m not sure what myself and my family will do.”

The reason why I chose mental health course is to help people with mental health issues at my workplace and also to understand why some people mood changes.”

This course has really helped me now I’m aware of what mental health is.”

Unions are supporting thousands of workers on furlough to build their skills whilst at home during the coronavirus pandemic, and unionlearn has added a page full of resources, courses and ideas called [email protected]