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Page last updated at 12:15 GMT, Wednesday, 15 April 2009 13:15 UK
Faces of the recession

Shaun FenwickAlan SouthAlison HindmarchLucy Bennett

As the recession deepens and unemployment increases, finding a job for those out of work is becoming more and more difficult.

For many people in the UK, job hunting has become a daily routine.

Over the next 12 months, Today reporter Sanchia Berg will be following the lives of four people who have been made redundant and are looking for work.

Each is from a different industrial sector - retail, car-making, construction and finance - and live around England, in Sunderland, Essex, Swindon and London.

Their stories open a window on the difficulties faced by people who find themselves searching for work and coping with unemployment as the economic downturn continues to bite.


Faces of the recession: Shaun Fenwick

Shaun Fenwick took voluntary redundancy from Nissan in Sunderland, where he worked for 22 years.

He says: "It was not an easy decision to make... I'm scared and excited at the same time."

He is 42, his children are grown up now and he doesn't expect to earn the same money again - but says he doesn't need to.

Nissan are asking for 800 volunteers now: but Shaun Fenwick believes there could well be another tranche of job cuts soon.

Age: 42
Last employment: Car worker
Jobseekers' allowance: No
12 months plan: Signed for courses

"Because of the way the car industry is going and the manufacturing industry is going and the age that I'm at, if I hadn't taken redundancy I could have been made compulsorily redundant and then I wouldn't have had the chance to change my career," he says.

He has not signed on, because that would mean he'd have to wait six months before he could do his training courses - and would oblige him, he believes, to take any job which came up.

"I didn't want to sit on my backside doing nothing," he says.

He has always been keen on fitness and signed up for a life guard course and has been training to be a fitness instructor - courses he has paid for himself.

Update: 15 April

In the last few days he's passed both the lifeguard test and the first stage of his fitness exam: he's actively looking for work, talking to the managers of the local leisure centres, trying to get on the list for casual shifts.

In recent months, the competition for such work has been growing though. Harry Blackett, manager of Shaun's local fitness centre in South Shields, said he had recently received 80 applications for three posts - an unprecedented response.

But Shaun is determined not to be dispirited - saying that if he couldn't find work locally he would just widen his search.



Faces of the recession: Alison Hindmarsh

Alison Hindmarsh says that mornings have changed now that she is no longer working.

"You lose that urgency to get things done. Everything sort of slows down, it's quite surreal- it's like walking in space," she says.

She is one of the 27,000 Woolworths employees who were made redundant when the stores closed last month.

Now 46-years-old, she had worked at a distribution centre in Swindon for 16 years.

Staff at a Liverpool branch were filmed doing the conga when their Woolworths closed but there was no such jollity in Swindon.

Alison describes the atmosphere as being "like a funeral on a mass scale. People were hugging each other, comforting each other".

Financially, she is better off than many, because she and her husband, a fellow Woolworths worker, took out insurance on their mortgage.

Age: 46
Last employment: Woolworths distribution centre
Jobseekers' allowance: Yes
12 month plan: Improve qualifications, find work

But it is the social side that she misses. She keeps in touch with many of her old colleagues: some come round to use her computer.

"I'm like an internet cafe," she jokes.

Alison has signed on for jobseekers' allowance. She is looking for work, but says there isn't very much out there.

She is using her time to improve her qualifications, to increase her chances of finding a new job.

"It's positive, you really feel like you're achieving something," she says.

She took one maths exam while at Woolworths and scored over 90%.

"I was so excited - ecstatic. I felt as if I'd won the pools," she says.

In 12 months' time she hopes that she will be back at work.


Faces of the recession: Alan South

On the table in Alan South's small living room in Enfield is a tall pile of papers, neatly organised. These are his job applications.

Since he was made redundant in March last year, Alan estimates that he has applied for about 500 posts.

For 30 years he worked in the City of London, first as a back office clerk, later as manager and then as head of operations.

This is the less glamorous, less lucrative side of that world: his highest salary was £55,000 a year - a fraction of what a trader might earn.

He lost his last job, with a French bank, when it merged.

He had only been made redundant once before, in the early 1980s. Then, the company allowed him to stay on while he found a new job. This time has been very different.

Age: 50
Last employment: Head of Operations
Jobseekers' allowance: Yes
Debt: Over £100,000

Alan imagined it would only take a month or two to find a new job, so at first he made no changes to his lifestyle, kept on paying £1,000 in debt repayments and £650 child support.

He has two teenage daughters from his first marriage - he's now divorced for a second time. But with only £60 a week in job seekers' allowance, he has had to make changes.

He racked up over £100,000 of debt on credit cards and loans - which he attributes to overspending over time, rather than an extravagant lifestyle.

Thanks to the Consumer Credit Counselling Service his creditors are currently kept at bay with very small payments.

But he is not able to send any money to his daughters, which he feels rotten about - especially because his elder daughter is hoping to go to university this year and he will not be able to help her.

Where does he see himself in 12 months time? This year, for the first time, Alan volunteered to work at a Crisis at Christmas daycentre.

"One thing I did notice was that a lot of the guests who came through were well dressed," he says.

"I did joke with a couple of the other volunteers that I could be one of the guests next Christmas not one of the volunteers."


Faces of the recession: Lucy Bennett

Lucy Bennett, who's 30, had taken redundancy in September last year. After applying for hundreds of jobs without success, using up all her savings, she had been getting ready to move back to her parents' home in Edinburgh to save money. She was considering setting up her own practice.

But now she's landed a job with a firm in London who specialise in public sector work.

"It was just the most amazing relief. I just couldn't stop smiling, and I still can't stop smiling...it's wonderful," she says.

Lucy says she feels very lucky. Her new employer has been inundated with CVs - hundreds of people applied for the post, which was advertised online.

Age: 30
Last employment: Architect
Debt: Paid off student debt
12 months plan: Set up on her own

At the moment, she feels secure, she says there's plenty of work coming into the office. This sector - schools, hospitals, public works - is the only part of the construction industry still busy.

Lucy described herself before as part of the "credit generation" - living for the moment, not worrying too much about the future. She says that's all changed: she won't go back to her "luxurious" former life, and she'll put money aside.

But she says it's great to be able to socialise again. "To be able to take my friends out and buy them a drink is one of the nicest feelings," she says.

So far she's the only one of the four "faces of recession" to be offered a job.


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