Furloughed, facing an uncertain career future and eagerly awaiting the birth of his first child, Neil Rackstraw explains how spotting a job advert for the North East Autism Society transformed not only his career, but his home life too.

Neil, from Sunderland, was furloughed from his hospitality job in March 2020 after the country was placed into lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But, with a baby on the way, the former promotions and marketing manager was left wondering what his future would hold – and how he and partner Kate would afford to live if he was out of work long term.

“Work just totally stopped overnight,” Neil says. “It took about 18 weeks to get my first furlough payment and I had no money coming in during that time.

My partner was on maternity leave and preparing to give birth to our son, so we were getting quite worried.

After three months of furlough, and with no end to lockdown in sight, Neil, 38, started looking for a new challenge – and the first job he applied for was with NEAS.

“I was out on my daily walk and spotted a banner for the North East Autism Society, and I thought, ‘I could give that a go’,” he adds.

Neil applied for the role last June and, after a conversation with registered manager Michael Ross, was invited to interview and subsequently offered a job at the Society’s Moorpine adult residential care provision, in Sunderland.

And the timing worked out perfectly, Neil says, as he was able to spend a precious few months at home with his partner Kate and their son Elijah, who was born in July, before starting work in October.

Neil believes his strong work ethic and communications skills have helped him quickly settle into the team at Moorpine, as well as helping him to develop positive relationships with the autistic adults he supports.

And not only is the proud dad enjoying his new role, the career change has also made a massive difference to his work-life balance – and Neil says his partner is delighted. 

“In my previous job, I worked 60 hours a week,” he says. “I was never home or, if I was, I’d be sitting at the laptop. Now I go to work, put everything into doing my job and I don’t have to take anything home with me.

My whole lifestyle has changed since joining NEAS, and most importantly I am getting to spend more time at home with our little one.

With a background in hospitality, Neil says he’d never considered a career in social care before applying to work at NEAS – however his manager Michael Ross immediately recognised Neil’s wealth of transferrable skills.

“Neil came across brilliantly at the interview,” Michael says. “He has adapted well and transferred his skills into this role. I am thrilled he’s part of our team.”

Asked what advice he’d give to others who may be considering applying to work for the Society, Neil says: “Do it!”

“At first I was a little nervous but the whole team at Moorpine, and everyone at NEAS, has helped me so much,” Neil adds. “And, while you will undoubtedly face challenging times, the job is so rewarding.

It’s worked out better than I ever could have expected and it’s definitely something I can see myself sticking with for the long term – I only wish I had done it sooner.

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