AMBITIOUS ABOUT AUTISM: Q&A with FCN intern Rhys Newland

University of Leicester student Rhys Newland is currently doing an internship placement with FCN as our Communications Assistant. This is part of the Employ Autism scheme, led by the charity Ambitious About Autism, and the placement is funded by the University of Leicester. In this Q&A Rhys tells us about his internship so far and some of the things he has learned about farming and the charity sector.

Hi Rhys. What made you want to apply for an internship with FCN?

I figured at some point I should start earning some money and get some actual work experience. Ironically, the lockdown gave me the perfect opportunity. Until getting this internship, I have never had an actual job where you get paid before, although I have been volunteering at the local Air Ambulance charity shop for some time. Therefore, working with a charity like FCN was the next logical step for me.

This being said, I was wary about giving up my holidays and working for 6 weeks. I mulled the thought of it over with my mentor, Sharron Sturgess, and my mum (two different people!). As the deadline for applications drew nearer, the thought of missing this great opportunity was constantly at the forefront of my mind. I, thus, decided to take a leap of faith into the unknown, signed up to the programme and began the process of getting an internship. Little did I know how challenging, for me, the application process would be.

Were you excited about getting the internship?

My emotions were a mix of worry and curiosity. It was going to be a new experience where I would learn a lot, not only about having a full-time job in general, but also about FCN and the people they support.

The online application process, including updating my CV, was relatively straightforward and didn’t present any considerable issues. The best part was the interview with Alex Phillimore, FCN’s Marketing and Communications Manager, and learning about what the role actually entailed whilst picking up valuable interview skills.

What difference did applying via the Employ Autism scheme make?

If it were not for the scheme, I would not be here writing (technically typing) this blog, and you would not be reading it. Had I not received details of the Employ Autism scheme I would, almost certainly, not have applied for an internship, despite previous encouragements from my mum.

First thoughts of FCN?

Upon loading up Zoom for my first meeting with the FCN team, I was feeling rather nervous. For me, it was quite a daunting prospect. It would seem I was worrying for nothing; the team was very friendly and welcoming, they made me feel immediately at home. However, in my effort to look professional and be respectful, I ended up saying very little. I had overcome this dread, worry, and unwillingness to talk by the time the second meeting came around the following morning and was more communicative with some other members of the FCN team who were not present for the previous meeting.

Benefits of doing an internship?

In my opinion there are many benefits of doing an internship, in addition to getting paid for working over the summer holidays. An internship is a time-limited position which gives certainty to both the employer and the employee. For me, this meant that I could still have free time, or a holiday, towards the end of the summer. It also gives real life experience of working for an organisation and, in my case, it has opened my eyes to the wider world of charitable organisations and to the wide amount of information on government websites. Doing this internship has given me experience of teamwork, taking part in online meetings, preparing reports, following the requirements and parameters of set tasks by my manager, and, finally, one of the biggest benefits of doing this internship is that I’ve been able to do it online.

Things I’ve learned about the FCN, and farming as a whole, so far...

One of the main things I’ve learned about the farming sector so far is that Brexit has and will continue to have a tremendous impact on every farm, from the bureaucracy required to import and export goods, to the labour shortages, quotas, and, in some cases, farmers deciding whether or not there is a future for them in the industry.

FCN is doing its best to support farmers through these tough times with its Helpline (03000 111 999), useful information on how farmers can access financial schemes aimed at helping them get by and raising awareness of the problems faced by farmers within the general population. There is a cost to this support and FCN welcomes donations and fundraising events that allow them to continue their admirable work.

The tasks I’ve been working on so far…

On a weekly or bi-weekly basis my manager set me new tasks or research projects. I found them time-consuming and, at times, challenging, though part of this may have been my Autism making it harder for me to interpret the information I found during my research.

The insights into the industry I gained in doing the projects were enlightening to say the least. When doing research, especially on the government websites, I found it difficult to get to the hard data. I can see how difficult it must be for farmers to access information relevant to their personal situation and improve it.

For my most recent task, I was asked to write this blog and I was apprehensive to say the least. I study Physics at the University of Leicester, and thus my skills lie with numbers not words. That being said, I have found this blog to be a reflective journey which highlights just how far I have come in such a short period of time. For this, I say “thank you” to the Farming Community Network internship, may the work of the FCN continue to help all those in need.

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