5 years ago, Neringa Kolendaite, a 21 year old Lithuanian girl, visited the UK for the first time. She had a cousin who was studying in Birmingham, and she wanted to spend a few weeks with her ; just to see life here, and to have some fun. That period passed quickly, and the weeks then became months. At the same time, she was studying Business Management at University in Lithuania. Neringa was enjoying her time in the UK, but also wanted to complete her studies, so it was time for her to find a job so she could travel home more frequently.
“At the time, it was easy to find a job, it wasn’t necessary to be able to speak English.”
Although Neringa had studied English and could speak fluently, understanding native speakers, with many different accents, dialects and unusual ways of pronouncing words proved difficult. Being at work helped with her understanding, significantly.
She left Birmingham, and moved to stay with a friend in Derby. Her first job was in the Boots factory in South Normanton, packing medical supplies. For her, it was good money compared to what she would have earned at home. She found it curious and amusing that she was required to wear safety shoes, helmet, and a yellow jacket in her job – her home country was less strict on health and safety.
As an agency worker she was moved often to different factories. She worked at Flowerworld for 2 weeks, and also in Ashborne at the chicken factory. She only managed to spend a few hours there:
“It was terrible – my first job was in a fridge to pack chickens – it was cold. I was wondering what I was doing here. I asked to be moved, and they took me to a warm place – but everywhere was blood, and I had to pull the hairs off the dead chickens. It was terrible – it was the worst job I’ve ever had”
She was then sent to the Wilkinson’s factory at Worksop which paid very well but involved a lot of travel and she was on the night shift. After 3 years she left, as she took maternity leave. This was a time for reflection on where her work life was heading.
Neringa could speak 4 languages – Polish and Russian, in addition to English and her native, Lithuanian, and was a graduate in Business Management. She felt that she had more to offer than picking and packing in a factory.
Getting a good job requires experience, getting experience requires a job : the interminable circle. In Lithuania, Neringa, knew that this was an almost impossible cycle to break. In Derby, she had options, and a good way to get experience was by volunteering.
She managed to find a role at Jobs, Employment and Training (JET) on Normanton Road as an Administrator / Interpreter helping people with job searches, CV’s and translation. Her range of languages was a great asset as she could speak to Czech, Slovak and Polish people in Polish, and Latvians, Lithuanians, and Russians, in Russian, as well as English to the many native speakers; this covered a high proportion of the people who visit JET.
After 5 months, she became a part-time employee, as her contribution continued to grow. Although she was on the minimum wage, the location was very convenient for home, and she was getting huge job satisfaction from knowing that she was helping people.
“It’s really nice when someone is asking for help, and you can help them – You feel happy then”
But there are aspects of the job, and the people who she sees that upset her.
“…. they are choosing a bad way of living – loads of people, are coming here for benefits, they don’t want to work, they have loads of children, they want to get a house, and get the benefits”
“If you want to live here, and travel – you need to really find a job, and work”
Neringa is very aware that the people she sees will have great difficulty getting a job without knowledge of English, and is disappointed that people find reasons to miss attending language lessons, even for the basic courses that are offered at JET. She is astounded that there are people who have been in Derby for many years, and yet don’t even know the alphabet, or are unable to speak the most basic of sentences; this is not confined to any particular nationality or ethnic group. Translation services in the Job Centre and Council are being removed and she sees this as a positive step.
“I feel happy inside, because now the people will have to learn English …”
She has a traditional work ethic and doesn’t understand those who seem to rely on benefits and are doing nothing to help themselves.
“You know one day all your benefits can stop. How are you going to feel when you are always living on benefits”
Her simple determination is to help everyone who visits her at JET. She is now working on a special project to get 45 people (from a population defined by the Job Centre) into full-time employment in substantial jobs ; not an easy task. She is relishing the opportunity to work closely with those who need her help and being part of their personal journey into employment.
From her initial visit as a care-free 21 year old “tourist” to the UK, she is now a mother, with a 2 year old child who is speaking 3 languages – her partner is Polish. She has many friends, and a job she enjoys, and also has the skills to develop herself for the future. In her words she is “in too deep” to consider returning to Lithuania.
Neringa speaks very enthusiastically, and with great passion about the work that she does. She is optimistic about her life in Derby, and is looking for ways in which she can contribute more, and develop herself. She is too modest to consider herself a role model, and she is not alone with her achievements, but a lot of the people that she tries to help could learn a lot from her outlook on life.