Chris, 47, from Redcar, joined Step Forward Tees Valley in January. Since then she has seen huge improvements to her health, her self confidence and her prospects for a brighter future.

“I have always wanted to work and be independent. Everything was going well, I had my family, my husband and a good job in the care industry but when I hit 40 my health deteriorated and it all seemed to go wrong.

My GP said I would end up in a wheelchair before I was 50 if I continued in my job but I didn’t want to just sit at home and claim benefits. I went to the Job Centre but they couldn’t help. I was only qualified to do one kind of work but my health meant I couldn’t do it so I started getting depressed and suffering from anxiety. I don’t like crowds so it became easier to sit at home.

I saw the advert for Step Forward in our council magazine and after a few days I plucked up the courage to pick up the phone and ring. I spoke to Jane, my navigator, and arranged to meet her. Since then I haven’t looked back. When I met Jane she really understood my situation. She showed me there’s lots of different opportunities out there and different things I can try.

She put me in touch with Citizen’s Advice Bureau and they have been brilliant. It had got to the point where we couldn’t afford the bills and we were surviving on £10 a week. It was the Council Tax and water rates we were most concerned about but there were other bills to pay as well – we were robbing Peter to pay Paul and barely surviving. Citizen’s Advice got in touch with the right people and helped sort out managing our debt and reduced our future bills.

I have always enjoyed making clothes and sewing but I hadn’t thought about it as anything but a hobby. I buy kids clothes and then unpick them and draw up my own patterns. I bought a sewing machine from a car boot sale and made pirate costumes for my grandsons that they loved. When I talked to Jane about it she made me see it as an opportunity. She has helped me look into business grants so I can set up my own business making children’s clothes. People are already asking me to make things for them and we are turning the spare room into a sewing room so when I am at home I have something to do. I had thought about retraining before but I couldn’t afford to pay for the courses. Step Forward has put me in touch with the right people who can help me get the funding I need.

Using my caring skills, Jane has helped me get the chance to do some volunteering and mentoring in a charity shop. Step Forward paid for all the official checks I needed so I could take on the role – they’ve made sure there’s no barrier to me getting where I want to be.

Jane has given me hope for the future. She doesn’t judge and she has given me something to look forward to. She is just one person but she has managed to get me the help I need from lots of different organisations. It would have been almost impossible for me to get that help on my own – I wouldn’t have known where to start.

Step Forward has given me a reason to get out of the house. I am very independent but I was getting stuck and drowning in my anxiety. I was even locking the door to my grandchildren and I didn’t want to become that person. It was hard on my husband too. When you feel depressed it affects people around you and I felt guilty that I couldn’t work. Jane has put me in touch with MIND who are helping me so I can manage my feelings and get on with things.

I meet Jane about once a fortnight but she is always on the end of the phone if I need her. She has even come to pick me up for appointments if I can’t get out because of my illness. Whenever we go to an appointment she always tells me to give her a nudge if I don’t like it or I feel uncomfortable. Knowing I can leave and I don’t have to do something I don’t like has given me real confidence. Everything we do is my choice but she has given me these choices that I didn’t have before. Before I felt like I was living in a bubble but Jane has opened up my eyes again. I am so positive now and I am looking forward for the first time in ages.

I would shout about Step Forward from the rooftops and encourage anyone to give them a ring – it can change your life.”