YMCA National Apprenticeship Awards
Max Cunny from Manchester has won the YMCA Pre-Apprentice of the Year Award. After completing his YMCA Training study programme in English, Maths and employability skills, 18-year-old Max went on to successfully secure a trainee chef apprenticeship at the Dockyard, an exclusive restaurant in Manchester, but his journey hasn’t been easy. Despite coming from a good home in an affluent area of Chorlton, Max’s life started to unravel at the age of 13 due to drugs, gangs and mental health issues.
As a child, Max loved football and later had trials at Everton. Sadly, he got distracted by the wrong crowd, which helped derail his promising football career. In Chorlton, “drugs were more available and cheaper on the streets than a packet of sweets.” Max started to experiment with cannabis. At first, he felt like he fitted in with his new friends, but before he knew it, he was caught up in a cycle of addiction and petty crime. He was introduced to Xanax – a prescription drug to treat depression and it wasn’t long before he was hooked.
Like many young people, Max was an easy target for gangs who groom youngsters with whatever means necessary - money, drugs or the allure of making a name for themselves - to do their bidding. Over a three-year period, this lifestyle took its toll on Max. He was getting into trouble with the police and at school, which led to his expulsion just before starting his GCSEs. He lost his appetite and gained an eating disorder. His self-esteem was low and he suffered with severe paranoia because of substance abuse, activities and people he was involved with. This led to suicidal thoughts and a serious psychotic breakdown on multiple occasions.
Change is hard!
Max recalls how his lifestyle affected those closest to him:
“My actions were basically ruining the lives of everyone around me. I had been in denial for so long. Seeing my mum get so upset about my behaviour was the wake-up call I needed. It got to the point where I realised, this was not how I was brought up. I needed to make my mum proud of me rather than ashamed. I had an ultimatum – change my life now or never get the chance again. Mum has kept me going through all of this. She never gave up on me. She’s still by my side helps me be the person I am trying to be today.”
Max decided to “sort himself out” before his life totally spiralled out of control, by joining YMCA Training in Manchester in January 2018. At first, he was keen and relished this new opportunity, but before long, his old life enticed him back. His behaviour and mental health deteriorated, but with ongoing joint support from the YMCA, NHS Mental Health Services and Eclypse - which offers support to young people in the grip of addiction – Max was able to get back on track, boost his self-confidence and achieve his goals, instead of potentially ending up in prison.
Max reflects on his journey:
“This apprenticeship has given my life meaning and instilled a sense of pride in me like never before. When you put your head down and put your mind to it, you can achieve your goals. If I hadn’t done this apprenticeship, I would be locked up for certain, just like so many other young people that I used to hang around with who lost hope. Nearly everyone my age from that area has been locked up for one crime or another.”
Onwards and upwards
“I love cooking! I’m enjoying learning the ropes in a very busy, disciplined kitchen. I like putting a smile on people’s faces – it’s one thing to make a plate of food, but it’s another thing when people enjoy it and compliment your cooking. That really makes me feel proud. Ten years from now, I want to have my own restaurant. I think this apprenticeship will open up so many doors.”
Head Chef at the Dockyard’s kitchen, Tom Warburton, has this glowing report about Max:
“Max is a great employee - his drive and willingness to learn rubs off onto others. He is eager to learn and grow within the profession and his attitude stands out high above other apprentices I’ve worked with. This apprenticeship is the foundation of Max’s career - he has the possibility of working in different kitchens, learning new techniques, moving up the ranks or even travelling across the world.
Max is genuinely a really nice young man. He’s had a tough road, but it’s inspiring to see him work and strive to create the best version of himself. I hope he continues on this trajectory to push himself higher. Max deserves this award.”