It is time to Celebrate Social Care
There has been, and continues to be much negativity in the media about social care, here at The Grey Matter Group, we are lucky, we get to hear so many of the fantastic, positive things that happen every day. We thought we could use this to start a #CelebrateSocialCare campaign to say a massive ‘thank you’ to the people who work in social care and to share some of your stories.
Each day that passes, we will open the next door on our journey of celebration, keep checking back regularly!
Help us to spread the campaign, take a selfie holding a sign saying “#CelebrateSocialCare“, and share it publicly to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram with the hashtag #CelebrateSocialCare. Let’s tell the world how much there is to celebrate!
Would you like to tell your story? We would love to hear your experience and add you to our calendar, click here to share your story!
Joanne is a registered manager with 30 years of experience at the ‘coal face’ of care. She recently took the decision to go to university to learn even more about working with older people. Joanne’s words are so passionate and strong that we want to hand over the floor to her, so you can hear her important message. Here’s Joanne, in her own words:
“My name is Joanne. I am so pleased to be a part of the #CelebrateSocialCare campaign. It is so important and so necessary. I’m going to university soon to learn more about our older people, and while I’m away my heart will be with you – our incredible social care workers.
“It has been a very difficult decision to take a sabbatical from care in order to study. I know that I am going to learn many things that will improve my practice when I graduate and return to care.
“I left school at sixteen with no qualifications. As the older sister to four siblings I had always been involved in caring for others. All of my family worked, and the expectation on me was to go out and get a job. Back then, I wasn’t particularly keen on little children – of course, I loved my siblings – but the thought of working with kids, hell no!
“I saw a card in the window of a newsagent looking for a laundry assistant at a care home in the town. I took down the number and rushed home to make a telephone call. I remember starting the very next day. Back then things were different to how they are today – we’ve come so far as a profession.
“I learned more over the years. I became a carer, then a senior. I moved on to become a deputy manager and finally a Registered Manager. I have moved between a few different care homes over the years. I have met some incredible people throughout my career, and I expect to meet many more.
“I want to add my story to #CelebrateSocialCare for two reasons. Firstly, I want to add my voice to the chorus of people who know there are brilliant things happening in social care. We know, because we’ve seen real care in action – and it’s not like we see on TV. It is the people right at the coalface that make most of the difference, especially when they are supported by great leadership!
“Secondly, I want to say that social care is a great career choice. Social care has allowed me to grow and develop into a strong, assertive woman. I am capable of anything that I set my mind to. back when I was 16 I would never even have considered university. Now it seems a natural next step.
“I have consistently had the most amazing experiences in care. Yes, there are downs. The job can be tough – at time incredibly tough. There are so many challenges. Care remains the most under-recognised, under-resourced, under-appreciated workforce in my opinion. But it contains within it some of the most wonderful people. I dedicate this story to you all, every person I have worked alongside and every person I look forward to meeting, we celebrate your great work. I thank you with all of my heart.
To finish. I want to say that if you are thinking about a career in care and you have it in your heart – go for it. You won’t regret it. If you already work in care, always be the very best that you can and remember to talk to your colleagues and to your manager. If you are a Registered Manager, always support your team. I know how much pressure you are under. I see your struggle. If you are an owner, support your whole team. They are the true value in your business.
Finally, to you all: care professionals, families, the general public, #CelebrateSocialCare because we all need a pat on the back from time to time.
Ruby is joyful, irrepressible and has boundless energy. “You have to have fun in life, and that means enjoying work,” said Ruby, before I’ve even taken my notepad out of my bag.
Ruby’s parents moved from Barbados when she was very young, “They came here for work, Britain needed them, you know? They worked hard all their lives, but they also had so much fun… They’re my role models,” said Ruby.
Ruby is a Domestic in a residential home, a job that she’s proud to have for many reasons. “I know I’m ‘just’ a cleaner,” she tells us. “But Theresa May is ‘just’ a Prime Minister. We all ‘just’ have our jobs to do, and we better do them well,” she said, animatedly. “My job is ‘just’ so important. I have all these ladies and gentlemen around me that need their home to be spick and span. They rely on me, and I rely on them.”
“I used to clean offices at the end of the day,” said Ruby. “Man, it was difficult to find the fun in that – especially if you were on your own. But I’m good at what I do, and I made it nice and clean for the office people.”
In later life, Ruby’s dad needed care and moved into a residential home. “He got dementia, and as a family, we couldn’t manage. My mum was struggling. We found a lovely home for him, and we all visited every day until he sadly died. “It was shortly after her father’s funeral that Ruby noticed a vacancy advertisement on the notice board at the home. “I could see myself working here. So I applied.” The rest as, Ruby says ‘is history’.
“I love working here, I have a connection to Dad. Every day I get to see these wonderful ladies and gentlemen. We smile, we dance, we sing. We do it all together, if a lady wants to clean her room, then I help her do that. If not, I do it for her how she wants.” Ruby said.
For Ruby, after working in commercial cleaning for so long, she wonders why she had never considered working in social care before. “I can’t believe it. I spent all that time polishing empty desks when I could have been here!” said Ruby, laughing.
“I love this place, the people who live here, the staff who support them and the families that visit. We’re one big family home. It’s nice like that.” Ruby tells us. “I’ll be here on Christmas morning. There’s jobs to do and people to say Merry Christmas to! Later, when I’m done I’ll celebrate with my family. It’s what we do in care.”
We asked Ruby what she would do about the challenge of recruitment in social care, “I see it, even here.” she said. “I think it’s because there is so much focus on the bad news. Of course there are places that need to do better, and there will always be a bad egg. But, just look at these stories you’ve collected here! It’s not all bad. Not at all. There’s so much hope! So much joy! I would encourage anyone who has a heart to think about working in care. I keep telling people that when I meet them. It’s special, you know? Being able to spend time with people who have so much to share with us – it is a real privilege.”
We totally agree, Ruby!
Denise’s sixteen years of experience in social care have led her to value one thing above all else… over to you, Denise: “I enjoy helping people and seeing them gain new skills. But what I really love is seeing people retain, or regain their independence.
“Every day is special, the little things that make people smile are important – but even if they don’t smile, knowing that I have supported someone always gives me a good feeling about what I do.”
For Denise, care is all about the individual. “I think the most important part of my job is always giving respect. We must ensure that the individual we are caring for is in control of their lives and their support. Sometimes family want to input – and that’s really important especially when their input is so well intentioned, but giving choice and control to the person, that’s what I value most.”
One of the biggest compliments Denise has received came from a lady, Sandra, and her family. “It was a challenging situation, Sandra had been in the hospital for a few months and had lost her confidence. I had been supporting her for a week, but then had some annual leave. When I returned to her a week later, she was anxious and distressed. ‘Oh, I’m so glad you’re back, Denise,’ she said to me as I walked through the door.”
After taking time to sit and talk with Sandra about her feelings, it became clear to Denise that the staff member who had been visiting Sandra had been in a rush and could not give Sandra the choice she was used to. “Sometimes this happens, there can be many reasons, not necessarily because the person is bad at their job,” Denise says. “It’s a challenging but important part of our job. I explained to Sandra that she was in control, and that if she wanted to, she could make a complaint.” Later, Sandra asked Denise to talk again, this time explaining everything to her and her daughter.
“I explained how care needs to work,” Denise tells us. “I encouraged Sandra to have a voice and to use it, if she wanted to – especially if it meant that the care we provided would improve. A little while later, her daughter showed me the letter that she’d written with her mum. It was very fair. There was a sentence about me being a ‘carer that truly cares’, and how I give ‘choice, dignity and respect’ to Sandra. That did feel quite special as I see that as a massive part of our jobs.”
Denise feels that enabling choice and control in life is the most important thing that she has learned while working in care. She also values humility. “It’s important to acknowledge your foibles and be able to laugh at yourself – we can’t always get it right, but we do have a duty of candour. If we get it wrong, be humble, respectful, own up and apologise. Doing that acknowledges the dignity of others, and also of ourselves,” says Denise.
Ali owns and runs AliMo, a family business providing care at home for people in Bristol and South Gloucestershire. Ali started the company in 2010 in memory of her mother who during the last two weeks of her life, received home care that Ali feels just wasn’t good enough.
“After seeing the home care that Mum received, I knew that there had to be a better way. I wanted to build a company that could provide the standard of care that she deserved,” said Ali.
“AliMo is making quite a difference. We’re building a great relationship with the local authority and the NHS. More importantly, we have a great relationship with the people that work with us and the people that we visit.”
Ali wants to provide her staff with the best possible working environment. “It’s my duty to look after the people that work for AliMo. Without them, I can’t possibly reach my aspiration of providing the care that my mum deserved,” said Ali.
“I am so proud of my team. When we first opened, we had a lady, Joan, referred to us for palliative care. Joan had withdrawn from her family and friends. She wouldn’t see or speak to anyone. She was so depressed. Joan was PEG fed, and sat in the silence in a dark room all day. She couldn’t bear weight, and her speech was almost unintelligible.”
Today, Joan is a very different lady due to the quality of care Ali’s team provide. Jodie – Joan’s primary carer explains, “Every week, Joan has her hair and nails done. She enjoys trips out into the community twice a week. With support from a carer, Joan prepares her own meals and is once again eating a ‘normal’ diet. She has reconnected with her family, sings daily and even walks around her home again with support. Joan is a very proud lady, and she hated the thought of people judging her – she’s starting to feel more comfortable now. I’m proud of how far she has come since I first met her.”
Joan still has a terminal illness, and she’s very unwell. However, the commitment of the carers that visit Joan daily has transformed her life. “The anxiety and bitterness about her situation caused severe depression. It’s amazing that a loving, positive, understanding and warm approach has had a powerful impact on her life,” said Ali.
“I know I’m not great at singing the praises of my company and our amazing staff,” Ali said. “We do have small internal celebrations, but we don’t shout about what we do. So, for all of my staff team, I want to take this opportunity to publicly say this: ‘You are ALL amazing – thank you, and Merry Christmas!'”
Tracey had her first child soon after leaving school, “It was one of those things that just happened,” said Tracey. “I didn’t plan to have children so early, I wanted to go to college. Now I’m 24 with three children under the age of ten.
“My parents taught me that work is important. I really wanted to work, but it was so hard to balance everything, especially after my relationship broke down,” said Tracey. Then, a chance meeting with an old friend changed her life.
“Just over a year ago, I was feeling quite depressed. I knew that I was bringing my kids up well, but I wanted them to see me working like I saw my parents working. I was dropping my eldest off at school when I bumped into an old school friend – she told me about the home care agency where she worked and suggested that I make contact.
Tracey popped into the home care agency. Having never worked, especially not in care, she was anxious about being turned down. “I convinced myself that I wouldn’t be what they were looking for,” said Tracey.
Instead of being rejected, Tracey was asked to attend an interview with the manager. “It went so well,” said Tracey. “I realised that being a determined, resourceful, independent, single mum meant I had loads of experience relevant to care. The interview gave me such a confidence boost!”
Tracey’s experience and enthusiasm showed and she was successful. “The manager was great, she wanted me to start training the next week, but she took onboard my need to sort childcare first, she’s been flexible ever since – I value that and work any extra shifts that I can.
“I thoroughly enjoy what I do,” said Tracey. “It can be tricky at times, especially if one of the children are sick, but our manager has built a fantastic, supportive team. There are always shifts that need covering, so we all pitch in to help.”
Does she have any proud moments? “I’m proud of everything that I am doing right now, every day! Even some of the most ‘mundane’ visits are vital to the person that you visit. There’s always something you can do, even if it’s rearranging the curtains. I’m always looking out for the little things that so frustrate people and ask if I can put it right.”
Tracey plans to remain working in social care, “I would love to become a senior, maybe even a brilliant manager. I’m young, and I’ll still be young when my kids are grown up, so there is plenty of time to continue learning and developing my skills and knowledge,” said Tracey. “I feel so proud that I can prove to everyone that it’s possible to be a successful single mother, work hard and raise great kids.”
Paul has worked in social care for many years. He has a personal experience to share. Here’s Paul:
My mother-in-law, Chrissy, always struggled with her mental health. She raised two children in Glasgow, one of whom had learning difficulties. These years were characterised by struggle and depression. Mental health is still not fully understood and our understanding was even poorer in those days. Chrissy’s son, Graham, was effectively written off by the healthcare system. Chrissy fought to ensure that he had the best opportunities possible.
Every Christmas we would travel up to Scotland to share time together with Chrissy, her husband Cowan and Graham. In March 2007 Cowan sadly passed away, leaving Chrissy caring for Graham. Very soon, Chrissy had to move into a smaller house. Her health declined, diabetes and depression taking their toll. The relationship between Chrissy and Graham began to change and gradually Graham became the one providing support. The family needed help to ensure Graham’s independence via external care organisations.
My wife, Fiona, called her mum each night. There were long silences, tears, small talk about domestic arrangements, disappointment about the healthcare system, mistakes in prescription of medication. I started to dread the calls and the impact it was having on Fiona. We were drained emotionally. We felt guilty. We felt pressured trying to balance the needs of our own young family against Chrissy’s needs.
As Chrissy’s world started to close down Graham’s life started to open up. Supported by Key in Glasgow, Graham attended college and experienced work. He grew more confident and his spoken English improved significantly, as did his independence. With the support of his carer he saw films, theatre, even a Dr Who exhibition!
The care staff in Scotland were so friendly and professional. I have worked in the social care sector for many years and worked in many care settings yet it was still a shock to see how the lives of my vulnerably family intertwined effortlessly with the lives of complete strangers. It felt so natural. There was no awkwardness. They treated my family with a humbling openness, dignity and sincerity. One carer in particular, Mary, lifted the atmosphere whenever she arrived.
As Chrissy’s condition deteriorated it was no longer safe for her and Graham to live together, so she moved into a residential care setting. We were often angry that such a valuable social care system is so badly underfunded and continually in the firing line.
The Christmas before Chrissie passed away we all went up to spend time with her and had a meal together in the residential care setting where Chrissie lived. We were given a room to use that was fully decorated, we had music, we brought food and we chatted and laughed with each other. My lasting memory now is of Chrissie sat happily at the table surrounded by her family. I am grateful for all of the staff that enabled that to happen.
Coincidentally during the meal, Chrissy’s previous carer, Mary, called in to drop off a card for Chrissie and Graham. She didn’t have to, she wasn’t getting paid, in fact later that week she was going off to get married so she had plenty of other things to do. This small act of kindness won’t appear in any report or in any Government statistic. Mary was just doing what thousands of care workers do every day – displaying humanity and touching lives in a very direct, meaningful way. In these challenging times, that simple act gives me hope.
Thank you to all the people who I have never met who gave something of themselves to try to make my mother – and brother-in-law’s lives so fulfilling. You truly are incredible people.
Jayde looked after her Grandfather until ten months ago. Her grandparents raised her, so it was important that she could give something back. “I had to grow up quickly,” Jayde said. “I have two small children and I’m still young at 21, but I loved helping my Granddad. Knowing someone really well helps you to make the biggest impact when you care for them.”
Jayde now works in the community, working with people with a variety of needs. “Every day is different – that’s what I so enjoy – a new challenge on a daily basis!” Jayde walks between appointments and is out in all weather. On dark nights her partner Lee worries about her being alone. “Lee is very supportive. But I’m a strong young woman, so I feel okay. Lee tells me I’m ‘golder than gold’.
“One of the people that I see is Alison, a lady in her 80s with a learning difficulty who lives in a home. I support Alison with some independence and social activities – I love it. The other day, Alison wanted to go shopping to get some Christmas decorations for her room, so we went into town. We chose decorations, sang carols – we had a real giggle! I asked her what she would like for Christmas, ‘Just to see more of you’ Alison replied. That melted my heart – I don’t feel that I do anything out of the ordinary.”
Jayde is very committed to working in social care. “I just have it in me. I think about the safety and happiness of the people I see all of the time. It’s not difficult to go that extra mile. I know it’s a cliche, but it honestly isn’t, especially if you love what you do.”
We asked Jayde what was the one important lesson she had learnt through her experiences, “I’ve learnt to never, ever, judge people as we don’t know their full life history – we have to respect people’s views and their right to them.
“I’ve also learnt that I couldn’t do this job without Lee. He’s my rock, always there for me, and a brilliant dad to the kids. Being a carer is who I am. Carers like me who have loving supporting people around them are the lucky ones. Thanks for helping us do what we do!”
Bobby took early retirement at 55. “I thought I was lucky but I soon got bored. all of my friends were still working. My wife, Sue, works in a residential home and loves her job. When I retired she told me ‘Don’t expect me to join you. I love my job!’
“A friend of ours told us that there might be a job for me at a local home. They were looking for a gardener and handyman and Sue said I should apply,” said Bobby. “So I did, and now here I am, I’m certainly not bored anymore. The whole experience has opened my eyes.”
We asked Bobby what his average day looks like. “Well, I don’t think I ever have an average day,” he said. “Not long ago I helped put up the Christmas decorations. I’ve repainted the dining room so that it looks nice for Christmas day. I spend time gardening, sweeping leaves… There are always lightbulbs to change and things to fix. There are no average days here.
“The home looks especially lovely at Christmas. There are so many decorations, things that residents have made, twinkling lights everywhere. The local primary school came in and sang carols – the residents loved that, and I think the kids did too! Next week we’ve got a couple of trips to the pantomime arranged. We’ve got a minibus. I’ll be driving and wearing my light-up Christmas jumper!”
Bobby loves this time of year but prefers the warmer days. “It’s great when the sun is shining, and the weather is warm, the people that live here come outside, enjoy the garden and tell me what needs doing! It makes me chuckle,” says Bobby. “It’s brilliant when the carers get people involved. Some of the residents love gardening – I’ve built a couple of raised beds so they can reach without bending too far.”
“The manager here is great. Everyone respects her complete focus on the residents. She always says ‘in order to give the residents the best, I have to give my team the best’, she’s an inspirational lady,” said Bobby. “We all work so well together.”
We asked Bobby about the negative stories on TV. “It’s not right what happens in some places. There is no excuse. If we can do it right, others must be able to. Sometimes, we have to make-do-and-mend here, but that’s only so we can spend money where it is most needed.”
For Bobby, it is important to have fun in life. “Just because you are older and you live in a residential home doesn’t mean you want to stop having fun,” said Bobby. “Everyone should have an opportunity for some enjoyment in their lives. I think the staff here do their best to make sure that happens. Social care is full of amazing people – I would like to wish everyone who works in social care a very Merry Christmas. Have fun!”
“Culture is everything,” said Famida, who works for a busy domiciliary care agency in the North East. “Without our culture, we are nobody, so in social care, looking after our elders, we must respect their culture or we will fail to meet their needs.
“Being a Muslim, I understand my culture very well, and being born and raised in Britain, I have a good understanding of British culture too. I have Sikh, Hindu, Black African, Black Carribean and White colleagues – our staff meetings are like an advert for diversity!” said Famida.
Famida loves working in such a diverse team. “We all learn so much from each other. We have great celebrations – we’re all in the Christmas spirit at the moment, with so much going on. We do seem to eat rather a lot!”
We asked Famida to tell us about the people that she visits. “I speak Urdu and English. I see a lot of elders in our community that are more comfortable speaking their native tongue. I think they feel more comfortable generally with another Muslim going to see them. Sometimes it can’t happen, but even my colleagues who aren’t Muslim have learned a few phrases in Urdu. It makes such a difference.”
“I also visit some White people, and an Afro-Carribean gentleman, Roger, who has early stages of dementia. The first time I met Roger, I ran over my allocated time, but that didn’t matter – it was more important that we understood each other. Roger has a very strong dialect. He’s from Grenada and I just couldn’t understand some of what he was saying. It was frustrating for Roger. I asked him to excuse me for a moment and called my colleague Dawn for help. Dawn spoke to Roger on the phone, and then told me what he wanted. Roger still laughs about that, nearly a year later. ‘Do you want to phone your friend?’ he says. I love that he feels comfortable doing that.”
Famida’s team are all there for her, and she is there for the team, “No one can know everything, so we have to help each other. There’s a lot of talk about cultural integration, and I agree it’s important, but for me, it has to work in every direction, and the only way that can happen is if we respect each other and are willing to learn.
“Our team works hard, and we work together, so right now, some of us are making sure that colleagues who celebrate Christmas get to spend time with their families – then when it comes to Eid, our colleagues help us out, too. We’re one big diverse family – just as the world should be,” said Famida.
We asked Famida to pass on some advice on understanding cultures. “If you have a desire to understand a person’s culture you will succeed because that shows utmost respect. We all have to be flexible, respectful and understanding – oh and patient!”
Today’s story is dedicated to Kaye – a community carer for a domiciliary care agency in the Midlands – from her proud husband, Alan. Over to you, Alan!
“I love the #CelebrateSocialCare campaign, it’s fantastic. After reading one of the stories I wanted everyone to recognise what Kaye does,” said Alan. “I think Kaye is amazing – all carers are really. Kaye is often up and out by half-seven and sometimes doesn’t get home until after ten pm. All day, she lovingly helps people with washing, dressing, cooking, shopping, the list is endless.”
“Kaye loves her job. I don’t know exactly what she does as she is careful with confidentiality,” said Alan. “When Kaye comes home, she’s tired, but always smiling. We do talk about our days of course – she tells me that the people she cares for are lovely and how they’re doing really well.”
Kaye and Alan’s children have grown up. “When the kids were small it used to be difficult juggling everything. I take my hat off to the single parents who work in care. Our daughter, Emily, is nearly 18 now. She’s hoping to go to university to study nursing, she has been inspired by what her mum does.” said Alan. “I’m so proud of both of them. Tom, our son followed in my footsteps, he’s a mechanic. Tom’s girlfriend is a carer too – she works in a nursing home.”
Alan tells us that the whole family sat and watched the Panorama programme, “It was shocking,” he said. “Kaye was in tears, she just couldn’t understand how people could be like that.”
For Alan, the very best carers – people like Kaye – are passionate about people. “It’s true that there’s not much money in care work,” said Alan. “Kaye has to work very long shifts to get a decent income, and that leaves her with little time to do much else.”
We asked Alan if he and Kaye would change their lives?
“Not a chance,” said Alan without pausing. “Kaye loves her work so much. When we met, she worked in a factory – she really didn’t like that. When the children were old enough to go to school, she wanted to do something different. She’s so happy that she went into care.”
We asked Alan if he had a special message for Kaye.
“I do,” he said. “Kaye will probably kill me for this, but I’ll risk it! Kaye, I love you and I am so very proud of you, even if you think you are ‘just a carer’. I know you are much, much more. This goes to all of the carers out there too. We think you are amazing. We don’t know how the country would cope without you!”
What has empathy got to do with high quality social care? ‘Absolutely everything’ according to Karen, a carer supporting people with acquired brain injuries.
Karen has always loved connecting with people. “If ever I had a day off from school, I would go to the so-called ‘special needs school’ where my mum worked as a cook and spend time sitting chatting to the other children,” says Karen. “Working in social care seemed a natural progression.”
In her twenties, Karen suffered a massive brain haemorrhage, “I had to learn absolutely everything again, from brushing my teeth, to learning to drive – everything that my neurosurgeon said would be impossible.” Karen defied her 20% odds of recovery, returning to work 18 months later. She went on to higher education to help her short-term memory and then began working in the NHS with people with learning disabilities. Karen currently works with people with acquired brain injury, people with whom she has great empathy due to her circumstances.
“I work one-to-one with Rob, a man who has Dysexecutive Syndrome,” said Karen. “It affects things like planning, initiative, judgement and insight – Rob says that he knows something is wrong, but he doesn’t know what it is.
“I am building great rapport with Rob, mostly through humour. Rob knows that I have a brain injury too. I think that helped us connect and build trust initially. I’m proud that I have supported Rob to accomplish things like going to the bank and sorting finances. They might sound like small tasks but to someone like Rob, they can cause anger and frustration, particularly when it involves appointeeship.”
This year, with Karen’s voluntary support, Rob planned to attend a Christmas party – something he usually avoids. “We got there with humour and encouragement. It was a big step,” said Karen. “And it was a huge success – far more attended than expected. Rob enjoyed himself. It’s great to be part of his personal journey. Whatever happens in the future with Rob, I know that I have made a positive difference.”
Rob is now talking about learning Makaton so that he can understand a lady that attends the group. Seeing the growth in his confidence has been a tremendous boost for Karen.
Karen also supports and shares her experience with others. She is an active member of an online support group for professional care and support workers she is always on hand to participate in discussions.
Karen draws on thirty years of experience and knowledge every day in her work. “I use everything that I have learnt to keep Rob in a good place. I have to be proactive and always think two steps ahead – I thoroughly enjoy that.” As the team leader for Rob’s support, it’s Karen’s job to ensure that she shares her knowledge and experience so that everyone is on the same page. Before Karen’s company began supporting Rob he had very little direction in life. “It’s the most amazing feeling, seeing Rob change,” said Karen.
For Karen, the most important factor in quality social care is finding ‘common ground’. “Rob knows that I have a brain injury and suffer from short-term memory issues. It gives us common ground – a shared experience. Empathy and common ground are vital components of great social care.”
Is there a place for male university graduates in social care? We put this question to Ollie, a history BA, now working in domiciliary care in North Wales, who responded with a resounding ‘yes!’
“When I graduated I didn’t know what to do. I worked in retail jobs for a while – the money and hours were good, but the work wasn’t rewarding – I’d always imagined doing a rewarding job,” said Ollie. “Some of my family are teachers and suggested that as a career, but it didn’t make me excited. I think you need to be passionate about your work, so I looked for something else.”
When Ollie saw a vacancy for a carer for a local agency he was unsure he would be accepted, as he had no experience of care. “I felt excited about a job for the first time,” said Ollie. “I knew that it would be rewarding and challenging, so I applied and I got the job!” Ollie began learning about care and worked in a range of settings that gave him broad experience of the sector. “I really enjoyed it, I worked in the community, in different residential homes and in a hospital, it gave me an understanding of the role. I also learned that I love community work.”
Ollie now works for a domiciliary care agency, working in Gwynedd and Anglesey. “I love my job, it’s so rewarding. I’m lucky that I see a lot of people. I also spend longer periods of quality time with one man on a one-to-one basis. Dafydd is a younger man with complex needs, he has a 24 hours package of care, so there is always one of us with him. I get a lot from spending time with him, we do whatever he feels like doing on that day, we’ve been to the beach, we go shopping, sometimes we go out for lunch. Dafydd is fascinated with the past, current affairs and the future. My history degree is coming in very handy!
“I get to work with different people, too. I particularly enjoy listening to the stories of more experienced carers. Some of my colleagues have 40 years of experience. They know so much. It’s so interesting to hear how social care has changed over the years,” said Ollie.
“Social care is a great career for a man. Of course, there are some people that would prefer not to have a male carer and they have the right to choose. Others prefer to have a male carer. I worked with a man who only had male carers, he felt uncomfortable receiving personal care support from young women. I also work with a woman who likes having me visit, it gives her the opportunity to speak to a man as she misses her husband. It’s a great feeling to know you make a difference to someone’s life.
“I worked with a man called Trevor who was a high-flying business man before he became ill with MS. Trevor thoroughly enjoyed male company. He was full of wit and banter, which he missed from the workplace, so it was great that the agency was able to provide him with mostly male support. Sometimes I almost forgot that I was working, it was so much fun! He’d have me in stitches,” said Ollie. “Trevor taught me so much. I learned loads about MS – it was a real learning experience, and I am able to use that learning with other people. That’s the beauty of this job if you have an active and enquiring mind – every day is a learning opportunity.”
Ollie has every intention of remaining in social care “In my opinion, there are few more rewarding jobs than care,” says Ollie. “I hope to progress into care management in the future. For now, I’m happy learning, spending time with people and getting paid for the privilege.”
“I’m cold. My clothes feel damp. I have been up since 05:30 when it was still dark, the wind and rain lashing down,” said Leanne. “I’m human – it’s normal to wonder why on earth I do this, but you know what? I have had the best morning ever!” Leanne looks tired, but she is still smiling.
Leanne works in the community, working mostly with older people living in their own homes. “Residential care is great – for some people it works really well – but I’m so proud that the work I do lets people stay in their own homes as long as possible.”
Leanne has visited eight people already this morning. “I love it. My first call was the most amazing chap. He’s a real gentleman,” said Leanne. “I let myself in and called out ‘good morning George!’ – he always responds by saying ‘morning petal, put that kettle on and let’s both have a cuppa’ – I really look forward to it.”
For Leanne, it’s important to put her own feelings aside so that she meets each person with a cheerful smile. “I made a cup of tea for George and myself and went into his bedroom, he was already up, sitting on the edge of the bed. He greeted me with the biggest smile ’Oh you are an angel,’ he said, as he reached for his cup. George usually tells me about his day in detail, it’s so sweet. He doesn’t get out and pretty much watches TV or reads all day. He has no family, or friends who are able to visit, so I think the only people he sees are his carers.”
Leanne spent three-quarters of an hour with George, supporting him to get washed, dressed, into his living room and settled comfortably with breakfast. “It can sometimes feel that there isn’t enough time to sit and chat, but I know that I have to go and care for other people.” Once George was settled and they had said their goodbyes, Leanne was back on the road, off to see the next person on her round.
“My second call today was more of a challenge,” said Leanne. “Vera can be quite confused, at times almost violent – never physically, but she can shout at you if she’s not happy.” This is all in a day’s work for Leanne. “Vera has had a hard life. She is a very proud lady. Today wasn’t a good day for her, but I know that on days like this she needs me to help preserve her dignity. I don’t react. I don’t let it affect me – I know it’s not personal,” said Leanne. “With a lot of encouragement I managed to get everything done and settled Vera down with a big bowl of porridge and despite all of her shouting she turned to me, smiled and said ‘Ta love’ to me as I left. It was a beautiful moment. Deep down, I know that she really values what we do.”
For Leanne, the important thing is to treat each person as an individual. “Everyone is different, everyone has their own pain and struggles. The last thing they needs is to share mine – so I leave them in the car! My job is to support people, keep an eye on them, make sure they are looked after as well as they can be,” says Leanne. “I think that’s a pretty cool thing to do, especially when you get rewarded with a smile or a kind word for what you’ve done.”
Roy is an agency care worker. When we caught up with him we asked him about his career so far. “I’ve only worked in care for three years, but I enjoy every moment. I wish I could say that about my last job – I feel like I wasted ten years!” Roy told us.
Much of Roy’s adult life has been spent caring. Roy is an informal carer for his wife who suffers ill health, for his mother-in-law who suffered from Parkinsons’ disease and for his two children, both with learning disabilities.
There are few permanent vacancies for male care workers in Roy’s town, but this hasn’t stopped him. “I work for an agency, which means that I travel a lot. That can be a bit of a nuisance at times but I do get to work in a variety of locations and services,” Roy told us. “Something permanent will turn up, and I’ll keep doing what I do until then.”
Roy’s positive outlook means that he values the chance to meet different people “I think it’s really important to learn what you can, to talk when others want to listen, and to listen when others want to talk,” said Roy.
Roy has some very special memories of caring for people. One memory is of Tim, a young man with Downs Syndrome. “The first time I met Tim there was an instant connection. We chatted and watched films together, it was one-to-one work all day. When our time together was up, Tim asked if I was going to come back. I explained the situation. Tim looked at me and told me that he needed a ‘man-hug’.” Every so often, Roy works in the Supported Living property where Tim lives. “Whenever we see each other Tim always shouts over to me, wanting to have a chat and a ‘man-hug’. It’s a great feeling when you make a lasting connection.”
For Roy, making these connections, and hearing people’s stories is so important. “I worked regularly as a second carer for an elderly lady,” said Roy. “We had some great conversations. I think she was the most interesting person I have ever met. I don’t work with her any more, but she has left a lasting impression on me and I think of what I learned from her daily.”
Although focussing on the positive, Roy is mindful that working in care means working with people that we will lose. “When people die, I feel a real mixture of emotions. I feel sad because they are gone, but I also feel incredibly lucky and humbled that I was able to meet the person. A colleague described the experience as ‘like losing a library.’ I think he was right,” said Roy.
We asked Roy what it takes to be a great carer. “listening is the most important thing that you can do,” he said without hesitation. “When you listen, you keep the library open.”
Danni has just started working in care. She has completed the classroom part of her induction and is about to start orientation. When we spoke with Danni she wanted to share her story to encourage others who might be thinking about a career in care.
“I used to work in retail,” Said Danni. “Before that it was catering. Working with people has always been important to me – I’m a people person.” Danni was inspired to change career and move into care by her late Grandfather.
“My Grandad received care, but I didn’t always feel that he got the standard of care that he deserved,” said Danni. “Grandad is a reminder to me that we’re at our best when we put the needs of another before our own.
“I was never fully satisfied in my previous work,” Danni said. “I realised that I wanted a career that I could really get stuck into. I know it will be draining, physically, mentally and emotionally, but I believe that caring for others will be worth it.”
With all of the classroom based learning complete, Danni is now looking forward to her orientation shifts “I just can’t wait,” Danni said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge of becoming the best Care Assistant that I can be. I want to build relationships and hear people’s stories. I want to learn how to give the best possible care.”
Learning is important to Danni. “The trainers have been amazing,” she said. “I have learned so much. It has been interactive, they have shared their stories. Some of the stories were hilarious and they were always informative. The first day truly captured my interest and it got better each day.”
Orientation starts on Monday, “I’ve been told that I will be buddied with a senior carer, so I’m looking forward to learning on the job from someone experienced.” Danni said. “Work has always been about making ends meet, but now I feel that I have found something more. I hope to keep learning and gaining experience, and one day progress into more senior roles.
“I am so excited!” said Danni. “Monday just can’t come around quick enough!”
Before she started working in social care, Lisa spent ten years as a nurse. Severe depression left her unable to work for two years so Lisa decided to take a different journey that would allow her time to work more closely with people and to focus on the ‘little things’ that she values.
Two months ago, Lisa started working in a residential home where most of the residents have dementia. Lisa enjoys spending time doing the ‘finishing touches’. “It might sound silly,” said Lisa, “But I thoroughly enjoy making sure that the cushions are neat and tidy, that the chairs are all clean and the tables set nicely for breakfast.” For Lisa, these ‘little things’ are what turns an institution into a home. “It’s critical to me that when people wake up, they feel comfortable, with surroundings that are clean, neat and tidy,” she said.
Lisa learned how to crochet this year as she felt it would help her with her mental wellbeing. It has made a difference to her, but just as important for Lisa, it has also made a difference to others. “Maureen lives at the home where I work and doesn’t always sleep well. She often comes and sits in the lounge,” she said. “One evening I was crocheting some squares to make a blanket during my break. Maureen walked into the lounge and I had a lovely long conversation about when she would make clothes for her children.”
For Lisa, this moment with Maureen was priceless. “Moments of lucidity can be such incredible opportunities to learn about someone with dementia,” Lisa told us. “It’s important to seize on times of clarity to learn how to meet someone’s needs better. It gives you insight into a person’s life, and how the work that we do must allow them to continue living with dignity and quality..”
Maureen asked Lisa to show her how to crochet. “We crocheted a square together. Maureen’s hands are not very agile, so I placed my hands on hers, and guided her. The expression on Maureen’s face and the opportunity for this shared experience is something that I will always remember,” said Lisa.
Lisa explained that working nights has its challenges though it is an important part of care work. “The biggest thing for me is that I don’t get to know all of the people that live here as most are asleep when I’m working. I also don’t get to meet many family members. But I do get a chance to spend real quality time with a few people. Like Maureen.”
Lisa’s journey with depression and anxiety continues, however, working with people with dementia is something that she loves doing. “We tend to rush through life,” said Lisa. “We don’t always have the chance to connect with people. I now have that opportunity and I cherish every moment. …I also get to share a piece of my chocolate and a cup of tea with Maureen – it’s all about the little things that make life, well, life!”
Ali recently moved from working in the community to working in a residential home. “I’ve done the training,” she told us. “I’m ready to start shadowing now and I can’t wait to start the real work!
“I loved working in the community but it didn’t always fit with my life. I have four children and needed a job that fits the needs of my family. I’m seriously looking forward to it, I can’t wait to hear our residents stories!”
Ali loves the opportunity to encourage independence and control in the people she cares for. In the community she worked regularly with a young man with complex physical and mental health needs. “I noticed after a few weeks that Rob didn’t seem to eat much, he declined most of the food I offered,” said Ali. “Time is sometimes short on a home visit, but one day I suggested that I cook Rob a full English breakfast.” There was just enough time and Rob thoroughly enjoyed it. From then on, Rob started to trust Ali more.
“I’d talk to Rob about different foods and slowly he relaxed and allowed me to make him different things for breakfast and lunch.” Ali’s encouragement didn’t stop there. She knew Rob’s personal hygiene wasn’t great, but he always declined support, saying that he would shower in the evening. Slowly, things began to change. “One day, he asked me if I would assist him to shower,” she said. “Soon Rob showered with support every other day – with other carers too.”
Ali is really proud of her work in community. Sometimes, Ali sees Rob around town. “We always stop and have a chat, and he tells me what he’s up to. It’s a great feeling to have been part of someone regaining some independence.”
Ali is looking forward to building independence with the older people living in the home where she now works. “They have great stories to tell, and they have pride in the way that they want to do things, it will be fantastic to support them to keep doing what they want as long as they can.”
Laura works for Optalis, a care and support provider for older adults and people with learning disabilities. As part of the Home Care team, Laura works in the community and gets to meet many individuals, but the thing that she loves the most is learning something new about the people that she works with.
“I visit a widowed gentleman, Stan, because of his Parkinsons’ disease,” said Laura. “Stan can find it very difficult to walk and often shuffles putting him at risk of falling.
“On one of my visits I had an ‘ear-worm’ – you know – one of those songs that you just can’t get out of your head. As I was helping Stan walk down the hallway, he suddenly stopped and started swaying. I hadn’t realised, but I had been humming ‘Mull of Kintyre’ as we walked down the hallway.
“All of a sudden, Stan started to waltz along the hallway in time to my humming. He was pretty good!”
Laura helped Stan get comfortable in his favourite armchair and she asked him about his dancing.
“My wife and I used to be ballroom dancing champions,” he said. “Mull of Kintyre’ was our favourite song to dance to.”
“From that day on,” Laura told us, “we have danced every day. It’s such a privilege.”
For Laura, working in Social Care gives her the opportunity to spend time learning new things about people. She uses this knowledge to bring back some quality into the lives of the people she cares for.
Astrid moved to the UK from Spain a year ago and started looking for a job. She wanted to use her administration skills doing something that she valued. Back in Spain, her mum was receiving care, so when Astrid saw a vacancy at Care Concern as a Scheduling Assistant, she applied straight away.
“In Spain, the regulations are far less stringent,” said Astrid. “I was amazed at how many regulations there are, and how strict things are here in the UK. It’s a very good thing.
In Spain, some of the carers who look after my mum seem to treat it like a chore that needs to be completed, almost as if they work in a factory. There is little encouragement, and little support to be independent.“
Working in care in the UK is incredibly rewarding for Astrid. She speaks regularly with the carers and with many clients. She feels that she plays an important role in helping everything run smoothly. “The carers make the biggest difference,” she said. “If I can do anything to make their jobs easier, I do it. If we all work as a team, everything is much better for the clients.”
Astrid believes that some of the care companies in Spain are interested only in the money. Her experience of care in the UK is different. “Companies like Care Concern, like many providers who my friends work for, are deeply interested in the people they care for.”
Care Concern recently achieved an Outstanding rating from CQC. “We had one telephone call from a client who told me, ‘I knew you would be fine! I told them how great all my carers are, and how I have never felt more supported.’”
Astrid absolutely believes that she has found a career in social care. “Although it’s behind the scenes,” she said. “I love making a difference to carers and clients.”
Georgia loves working in a care home. She knows that society, on the whole, doesn’t seem to appreciate people who care. She does not expect thanks from the people she cares for. Neither does she expect it from their families. Most of the time she receives no thanks at all.
So why does Georgia still love her job? “Because spending time with people, really getting to know them makes such a massive difference to someone’s life,” she says.
Eileen lives at the home where Georgia works. One day, Eileen’s family visited. Unfortunately, they are not able to visit very often, so it is a big thing for Eileen when they do.
Georgia took Eileen’s family to her room, where she sat relaxing. As soon as Eileen saw her family she said “Georgia is just brilliant, she does everything that she can to make sure that I’m well looked after.”
“I don’t do anything out of the ordinary with Eileen,” said Georgia. “I treat all of the people that I care for as they would want to be treated. That’s all.
I make an effort. I ask if she’s okay and if there is anything else that I can do for her,” says Georgia. “I do think it’s about more than just the weather. I try to remember things people tell me so that we can have more personal conversations.”
When Eileen’s family left, they asked to speak to Georgia and told her that it was fantastic that they knew they could leave knowing that their mum was being treated so well.
For Georgia, this is lovely feedback. But it is the seemingly small things, like being able to care for Eileen’s needs with dignity and respect, that make her job feel so rewarding.
Melanie is a carer and activity coordinator. Over the past year that she has been coordinating activities, she has helped to raise more than £500 towards the activities fund. Melanie feels that raising this extra money is really important as it allows everyone to enjoy their lives much more.
Melanie says “I always ask how our people would like to spend the money, what kind of activities they would enjoy. It’s important to ask them as it is their money.”
Mabel, a resident, rarely wants to get involved with activities, though Melanie always encourages her. However in a recent discussion Mabel suggested that she would really like to go to a nearby Garden Centre, which has a cafe and a large Christmas display every year.
Melanie was thrilled that Mabel had made a suggestion and wanted to do everything possible to ensure the trip could happen. She spoke to the manager who agreed to pay for the extra staff that would be needed. Melanie arranged everything, organising access with the Garden Centre, assessing risk and organising a minibus. “It was hard work getting everything in place, but I knew it would be worth it,” Melanie told us.
The day came, and they took their trip to the Garden Centre. The residents loved looking around, taking in the sights of the Christmas displays. “Mabel doesn’t get out very often, but she had such a wonderful time,” said Melanie. “Together we looked at the twinkling lights and smelled the candles – some of which Mabel didn’t like at all!
we all sat down and ate lunch together, it was a lovely atmosphere. You could see everyone was having a good time – it was such a reward for the hard work that we all put into it. It was pretty hectic!”
The staff and residents were talking about the trip for days, and together, Melanie and the residents are planning a return trip in the new year, this time for afternoon tea!
“Seeing people smiling and feeling like they are alive is the reason I work in social care,” says Melanie.
For three years, Sally worked in administration jobs that didn’t give her the job satisfaction that she craved. Sally had never really thought about working in care, but a group of her friends challenged her to join the Prince’s Trust ‘Get into Health and Social Care’ scheme – and she hasn’t looked back.
Sally tells us that when she was on the Prince’s Trust scheme, she spent time in a hospital with a patient diagnosed with terminal cancer.
For Sally, this opportunity was exactly what she was looking for. She enjoyed spending time talking with the patient and their relatives, “It was really good to be able to connect properly with people”, she said. “One time, we shared a ‘codeword puzzle’. I’d never done one before, but I learned something new, and it’s great! Doing that gave me confidence in myself”.
Sally completed the Prince’s Trust scheme and is now working as a community carer, “I think I’ve found the career I was looking for,” she told us. “I’m really happy.”
Millie works in a residential home, a few days ago, a lady living at the home was celebrating her 81st birthday. Millie says, “Sheila can be quite forgetful, rarely knowing who I am, let alone remembering what I say to her”.
To help celebrate her birthday, Millie accompanied Sheila to look around the shops to spend some quality one-to-one time together. When we arrived, Sheila was determined to buy a big cake to take back for everyone to share in her birthday.
Sheila and Millie managed to find a lovely cake. Sheila then decided that they should make their way to the cafe and treat themselves to a nice big hot chocolate all of the trimmings, yum!
When Millie went to pay, Sheila said “let me pay for yours too”, naturally Millie declined politely and together they agreed that instead when they got back home, Sheila would cut Millie a slice of her birthday cake.
Sheila and Millie returned home, and after a chat with everyone about their adventure, Millie carried on completing paperwork and seeing to the needs of the home and people living there.
Millie finished her shift, and was about to leave when Sheila stopped Millie, gave her a massive hug and told her that she’d had the most wonderful time, and thanked Millie for going out with her. She handed Millie a little tub full to the brim with cake, winked at her and said “you can’t have forgotten our deal”.
This is why Millie does her job (and it’s not just for the cake). Little moments like this where two people can share a connection and live life.
James hadn’t worked in the Residential Home for very long, only about six months, when sadly, one of the residents was rushed into hospital. Harry was in his 90s and had made a special bond with James, despite Harry having late stage dementia, there was an unspoken connection between the two. James was asked to go with Harry in the ambulance to the hospital, when they arrived, after the doctors had seen Harry, James called the Home, the prognosis was regrettably, not good. The Home called Harry’s relatives, who were away on holiday.
Time progressed, and Harry was admitted on to a ward, he was uncomfortable, distressed by the environment and clearly very unwell. The hospital team did everything that they could to make Harry comfortable. They asked James if he could stay for a while as Harry clearly felt safer with his presence.
It was getting late, and James had been on shift for 11 hours, but James’ instinct told him that he must stay. Very sadly, an hour later, Harry reached out his hand to James, who in turn held it, Harry opened his eyes, looked at James and smiled. James knew that Harry was gone.
At the funeral, James was acknowledged privately by Harry’s son and daughter for bringing back some life to their father, and for being there at the end, when they were unable to be.
For James, the incredibly privileged, and close relationships that can be built in care, together with the shared warmth makes social care one of the most rewarding jobs of all.