Larry Birchall is planning an extra-special Christmas this year.

Last December he was homeless and had no job, but 12 months later he has managed to turn his life around.

Larry's fortunes changed just before Christmas last year when he learned about a community scheme run by Marks & Spencer.

The Marks & Start scheme has been designed to give individuals across the UK a taste of life in a working environment and the confidence and ability to re-enter the workplace.

Work experience placements at M&S stores and offices are offered to the homeless, schoolchildren, disabled people, parents returning to work, students and the young unemployed.

Larry, 40, from Portslade, had experienced problems with his family and the mother of his son, which led to him becoming homeless last year.

He was staying at the William Collier House YMCA hostel, in North Road, Brighton, when he read about the Marks & Start programme.

He was feeling very low but was determined to gain confidence and improve his self-esteem.

Through a partnership with Business Action on Homelessness, Larry went on a work experience placement at the M&S store in Western Road, Brighton, which led to a permanent position in March this year.

Larry works as a customer assistant in ladies' fashions but often helps out in other departments.

Fellow worker Jacqui Fullerton-McIntyre was appointed Larry's "buddy" and helped him during his first few weeks in the job.

She said: "His confidence has really grown and many customers who come in now ask for him specifically."

Larry says getting the job paved the way to him getting a council home and he now lives in a one-bedroom flat in Portslade.

He said: "I now feel very confident and positive about the future. I am happy to stay where I am for now and build up a career for myself.

"I have got back my sense of self-worth and pride. I am determined to stick at it and I will never forget everyone who has helped me.

"Schemes like Marks & Start show there are possibilities out there."