That was not as painful as I had anticipated.
But before I got there, and even until I spoke to the person I was to see, the manager, it was terrifying. I stood at the door for a few seconds before entering and felt like i was going to puke up my own beating heart. Even when I stepped inside I could still hear the ominous tones of my favourite adviser, from within the churhc hall itself, fortunately out of sight. I imagined him sat on the stage as some grand overseer, playing pandemonium on a church organ and conducting the affairs of the few jobseekers (presumably) within.
There was about 5 people in the place, which meant there was no room at all for me, never mind the possibility of having a private discussion. They were sat around laptops connected to the web (so the place at least has Internet access). I couldn't really see what they were browsing, I thought they might all be mind linked to Universal Jobmatch. Once again the environment was totally unsuitable, there's no privacy, no room to do things properly.
My contact was not present at the time; she had taken another customer to a cafe to speak to them privately as they were having a difficult time, I would discover. At this point I'm starting to really get frustrated now; I'm extremely stressed and the one person that wasn't my awful adviser who was there to help didn't know when she'd be back and couldn't process my bus ticket. Things are not off to a promising start. Fortunately the manager was quick to return.
I get her to refund my bus ticket, wanting to get that out the way and she offers to take me to the cafe she'd just been to as she agrees there's zero privacy (there's barely room to swing an unemployed cat). While not ideal it's a lot better than that place - and I can be somewhere that awful adviser isn't.
Ok, that's enough scene setting. She sits down and explains to me some of the reasons, from her perspective (how true any of it is is not for me to decide, I have to give her the benefit of the doubt), why things are the way they are. I'm not initially impressed when, predictably, she defends her colleague saying he's one of the best she's working with, though later she concedes he's a 'by the book' kind of guy - you're not kidding.
The reason they are based in a church is because they don't get any funding. I was under the impression there is an initial fee for each customer that gets referred, perhaps that's just not true or not enough to cover costs. Either way this is why they don't have nice offices and have to resort to using their existing facilities, ie Salvation Army church halls. She even agrees that it's far from ideal. I'm getting a small insight into the Work Programme from someone who, I think it's fair to say, isn't 100% happy with how it's working.
She tells me that they get no help from the Government and an interesting scenario is mentioned: people that are on the Programme that move out of the area are still expected to comply with the Programme - with the people to whom they were referred. There is no transfer system; apparently she's having to stay in touch with people that have moved to the other end of the country and dish out expenses for people getting help now living a couple of hundred miles away in another town altogether! The programme is so ill conceived that it just doesn't accommodate the providers at all. I'm not unsympathetic, since it's us that have to bear the brunt of this massive mess, but I do wonder what they were thinking when they agreed to this contract in the first place? Were they lied to? I don't ask, it didn't seem pertinent and I doubt she'd be in a position to help.
Ultimately she agrees to contact me over the phone once a month, conceding that travelling to such an unsuitable environment isn't in my best interests. Again, now that I'm on ESA, she can be more helpful. It's ridiculous; the government tout this scheme as flexible and completely open to how the provider wants to help their customer. Clearly that's bollocks, complete bollocks: if you're on JSA they have to do certain things (though what those are remains unknown, I hope I never find out). She even admits to having to deal with lots of terrified customers and says she works in another capacity to allay those fears in vulnerable people. In fact when the customer she saw before me was in such a state that dfealing with them in the church hall was also out of the question.
This is a more positive outcome and to be fair she does seem to be more understanding and genuinely helpful than the person previously. There's no point me going over that situation to her so the best thing is to hope for a new start. How long this will last depends on the ESA process. Again there is nothing the Work Programme can do to help in that regard; they have no medical training of any kind. They cannot refer me to anyone that might be able to help with the issues I face so again that falls back into the purview of my GP. Again this disconnected situation remains, but I don't suppose that's her fault. Again it confirms just how poorly put together and ideologically motivated, at the expense of real help, the Work Programme is. If even the organisations that run it as providers can't get funding to do it properly - and one can certainly question why they are even running it if that's the case - then what hope do the rest of us have. All we can do is make the best of a bad situation.