AMAZING TURNAROUND FOR PRINCE’S TRUST AMBASSADOR ‘KING BEN’

Rewind just a couple of years and Ben Jewers-Pettinger was in a pretty dark place.

Jobless, directionless and recovering from a mental health crisis, he feared he might never find a meaningful role in society.

But all that changed when, in 2019, Ben enrolled on the Prince’s Trust Team Programme course at Leeds City College’s Somerville House. He went on to have a wonderful, fulfilling and – in his own words – ‘life-changing’ time: and to earn a nickname, King Ben, which has stuck.

An amazing two years

Fast forward to 2021 and Ben, now a young ambassador for the Prince’s Trust, has given dozens of talks – including one to an audience of 400 people – to raise awareness of both the Trust’s work and mental health issues.

He is also happily employed and recently celebrated his first year work anniversary with construction firm, Balfour Beatty.

In June Ben was invited to attend a prestigious Prince’s Trust event at St James’s Palace where he ended up meeting Prince Charles and being interviewed by CNN. He describes this as the moment when he really realised how dramatically his life had changed.

He said: “Two years ago I was unemployed and had never had a job, then a couple of weeks ago I’m meeting Prince Charles! So it has been some two years.

“The real catalyst for change was me starting the Prince’s Trust course at Leeds City College, that gave me the confidence and focus to push on.

“I got trained in public speaking last March but then the pandemic happened, so most of my work for the Trust since then has been online, speaking about my experiences.

“The Future of Work event at St James’ Palace, where I met Prince Charles and spoke to CNN, was by far the biggest thing I’ve been involved in.”

The value of kindness

During his television interview, Ben used the opportunity to stress how important it was for businesses to really care for their employees and ‘give something back’.

He is particularly keen for more firms to change their attitude towards mental health and make the effort to reach out to members of staff.

He said: “If you break your arm you’ll take a few weeks’ sick leave and no-one will question that, but there is still some resistance to the idea that people might need to take a day or two off for mental health reasons sometimes.

“Mental health should be regarded like physical health and some employers could be doing more. Instead of putting up posters about wellbeing and feeling alright, they could be holding regular one-to-one meetings with employees to just check in on them, make sure they’re ok and know they have someone to talk to if they need some help.”

A happy cog

Ben’s role at Balfour Beatty, meanwhile, is a multi-faceted one that covers everything from administration to data analysis. He also manages Msite (a construction workforce app) for the massive, £116 million East Leeds Orbital Route (ELOR) project.

He said: “Work has been fantastic! I’ve come from a place where I didn’t think I’d ever contribute to anything, to dealing with a mountain of paperwork and dozens of emails every day.

“So I’ve become very much a cog in the machine – in the most positive sense possible!

“I failed a lot of my A levels because of mental health stresses and spent a few years just wandering really, but managed, thanks mainly to the Prince’s Trust course, to turn things around.”

Balfour Beatty’s Social Value and Education Skills Lead, Cherie Paterson, said: “As our MSite user Ben meets every person who comes to work on ELOR. To date he has talked to just shy of 1,000 of our inductees, and he attempts to start their time here right every time.

“He has also spoken at numerous events, representing both the Prince’s Trust and Balfour Beatty, and helped establish relations between the Trust and their new corporate partners and funders.

“Ben has helped with messages, videos and speeches to various audiences, too, and never shies away from speaking about his experiences of mental health challenges if there is an opportunity to help his audience gain perspective and understanding.”

Origins of a king

The Prince’s Trust Team Programme, for 16-24 year olds, is designed to boost young people’s confidence through personal development and challenging activities, including a residential trip and work placement.

Ben really found his feet during the group community project part of the course, as Prince’s Trust Team Leader at Leeds City College, Amy Lassu, recalls.

She said: “He became ‘King Ben’ because he was so direct and was always giving out instructions to the team. He was also the go-to person who always knew everything.

“Ben was an absolute joy and a model student; he supported his peers, volunteered to lead more tasks towards the end of the programme, and excelled in all of them. He had a few bumps along the road and a few ‘mental health days’, to use his phrase, but always came back stronger and ready to do anything that was asked.”

Ben recalls: “Early on in the course, when I was still finding my way, I made a paper crown during one session and that was where the ‘king’ originally came from.

“I also came up with a ‘Ruler Sword’ which people could be ‘knighted’ with – it was just eight rulers taped together though I later upgraded it to a £10 plastic sword when we took a trip to the Royal Armouries Museum.

“So I got the king name, and it stuck. It ended up actually becoming a bit of a marketing tool and when we were holding a fundraising bakery sale they had a crown made for me with the slogan ‘King Ben’s Bakery’!”

To find out more about the Prince’s Trust visit www.princes-trust.org.uk .

More details on the Prince’s Trust Team Programme course at Leeds City College can be found here.

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