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Gary Swan's Story of Resilience and Determination: ERSA Award Finalist

Updated: Dec 14, 2023


We are thrilled to announce that our precious client Gary Swan has been selected as a finalist for the ERSA Employability Awards in the category "Achiever of the Year Award – Working for Better Work”. Gary’s story is one of resilience, determination, and the pursuit of meaningful employment following a life-altering event.

Gary Swan - A Story of Determination

Successful, happy, talented, and living independently, Gary Swan was everything he could have hoped for himself. However, in 2021, one incident turned his life upside down. Gary, from Stepps, suffered a brain injury brought on by encephalitis - a rare but serious condition. For accomplished tap dancer Gary, it was like life as he knew it didn't exist anymore. No longer could he run his business, nor live on his own. Gary had to move in with his mum and, slowly, start again.

Gary recalled: "Unfortunately, I fell ill with encephalitis, which is a brain injury. I was unable to work at the time, but my brain team suggested Routes To Work as a support method to get back into work. I know a lot of other patients just can't work; they don't have the confidence to put themselves out there for the fear of not knowing what's going to happen next. I don't know if I'd have been able to go back to work without them."

Thankfully, he could count on his mum, Linda, for support, and when he was referred to Routes To Work by the NHS brain injury team, things started to turn around.

Gary and his mom Linda

“We were both so thankful we were introduced to Janice who certainly put us both at ease and explained what their role was and said there was no pressure, and we would go at my pace. She was so interested and supportive of my story and the difficulties I was experiencing as well as being so encouraging of my career history and the ethos of the need for me to feel valued as a member of the workforce. “– Gary recalls about his meetings with his caseworker Janice.

Overcoming Challenges and Finding Hope

It wasn't without its challenges, though, as Gary struggled to overcome the barriers brought on by his brain injury, at first. His anxiety was heightened, frustration abounded at his new-found short-term memory problems, and even simple things like travel became huge struggles. However, his confidence and self-esteem grew, and Gary began to yearn for gainful employment.

With the benefit he was on, Gary didn't need to look for work, but with the assistance of his mum and his in-work support advisor Mary, they started to search for the hospitality opportunity he desired. Through an old friend, Gary was invited to be a waiter at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Photo of Gary

While he had an initial high at getting the job, he soon realised it would be too much, too soon. The practicalities of remembering orders and working quickly to serve customers were too big an obstacle to overcome.

"I'd been working in hospitality all my life," he said. "When I first started, I went as a server, but part of my illness is short-term memory loss, so trying to recall orders, remembering what people asked you for, is very difficult."

With a supportive friend on his side, however, Gary was moved into a host role he is now thriving in - welcoming and seating customers in his own unique style.

He added: "The team is fantastic, and my line manager is so supportive and helpful as well. There's been lots of dance-offs with young guests in the restaurant, yes!"

Rebuilding and Finding Purpose

Happy and settled in the job, Gary sought more support for his mental health as he came to terms with his injury and the life ahead of him. Mary recognised this and referred him to an experienced Counsellor specialising in brain injuries, which she deemed would be vital as a next step in Gary’s ability to function at a high level in any workplace.

Gary and his mom Linda in Routes To Work office

This step provided invaluable, as Mary’s approach and efforts not only aided Gary's professional growth but also offered support in his personal life. Gary's first counselling session was a significant moment, highlighting the impact this support could have on his ongoing journey of recovery and achievement. Gary burst into tears after his first session, realizing the impact it could have moving forward.

While things are very different now, Gary is back on track, happy, successful, still using his talents, and making steps towards rediscovering his independence.

He said: "You've always got to laugh, because you need to remember where I was and where I am now. It's a big, big leap in the right direction. It's day by day, but every day is a part of the Gary Swan journal."

Gary's journey is a testament to his determination and flexibility in the face of adversity. His story serves as an inspiration to all, showcasing that with the right support and mindset, even the most challenging circumstances can be overcome. We believe that he truly deserves recognition as the Achiever of the Year, and we‘ll be cheering for him at the ERSA Employability Awards ceremony on the 28th of November.

Learn more about Gary and his journey in our Annual Report 2022/23.

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