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  • How long have you been a support worker?

    It’s hard to believe but I’ve been a support worker for 35 years. It’s incredible to think that I’m still supporting some of the same people I met all those years ago on my very first day of work

    What made you decide to become a support worker?

    I first started to work at Hft on a part time basis, to supplement my income when I worked in a café, but as I started to settle into my new job I realised that this was what I wanted to do full time.

    What personal strengths do you bring to your job?

    I’ve always been good at building relationships. I’ve formed bonds both with the people we support and their families. I’ve always been here to support them through anything that’s going on in their lives, and the families trust me to be there for their loved ones. We’ve been on a journey together.

    Everyone is different. I try to find ways of supporting each person according to their abilities, needs, and wants. For example, one person I support is non-verbal and was having difficulty in being understood, so I did a training course in Makaton (a language system based on symbols, signs, and speech) so that I could find a way to help her communicate. We took pictures of her making her Makaton signs and have put them up on the wall with what each one means. Now, everyone who supports her can understand what she is saying. It makes telling us what she wants so much easier for her.

    What makes a good support worker?

    The most important skills a support worker can have are patience, understanding, and listening. Developing these skills over the years has benefitted me not just at work, but in my personal life also.

    I also believe that we should never stop learning. There have been so many changes over the years, in how people are supported. I love to see changes and move with them. I learn from the younger support workers. I like to see people with different outlooks. I love to learn and to listen to their views. I learn from them and they learn from me.

    What has support work taught you?

    I’ve learned that support work is not just about doing things for people, but supporting and encouraging them to do things for themselves. I love to see people achieve things, even small goals like making a cup of tea or getting the bus on their own. I recently taught a young woman to make macaroni and cheese. At first, I had to talk her through each step, now I stand back and watch her do the whole thing herself. It makes me feel very proud.

    What kind of challenges have you faced in your career?

    One of the most challenging times of my career was working during the pandemic. Being a support worker means supporting people through good times and bad. During the pandemic it was really difficult. The main priority was to keep everyone safe, both staff and people we support. It was a challenge for the staff, but even harder for people we support. At the end of the day we got to go home to our families, but they were unable to see friends and family for a long time.

    I feel very lucky that the staff have had great support from our management. I’ve always felt that I can ask for help when I need it. I think Hft is special. My heart is here. I think it works because of the great staff and of course the people we support.

    What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a support worker?

    I would say go for it. My career has been a journey. One that I’ve really enjoyed. I believe I’ve made a difference in the lives of the people I support, and they have definitely made a difference in my life.

    Mary Jennens - Support worker for 35 years

  • How long did you work as support worker?

    I worked as a support worker for 8 years.

    What do you do now?

    Now I work in Hft’s Personalised Technology team, where I help the people we support by finding devices and aids which will suit their individual needs and help them to live more independently and safely. We go and have a chat with them, observe what they do and see how we might find a piece of technology that may help them.

    Do you think your experience as a support worker helped you to get your new job?

    Absolutely. I gained a huge amount of knowledge and skills while working as a support worker. My experience gives me a great insight into how the PT team can provide the best services possible for the people we support.

    During my interview, I had to give a presentation of what PT meant and how it could help people with learning disabilities and autism. I told them about a person I supported who hated having showers. It was always a battle to get him to wash. We got him a ‘disco showerhead’ which turns an ordinary shower into a sensory experience. It plays music and displays different coloured lights. After that, we couldn’t get him to come out!

    It’s great when the team asks for my opinion. The fact that I have worked as a support worker means they respect my point of view. I feel as though I have a unique viewpoint compared to some of the other team members. Some have come from services and some haven’t. It’s definitely an advantage.

    What are the biggest similarities and differences between your current role and support work?

    The biggest similarities would be that I’m continuing to work in a job that helps people. That was a very important factor for me.

    Also, I love that I’m still learning every day. I’m really eager to get as much experience as possible. I’ve learned that sometimes PT is for security purposes and sometimes it is for sensory needs, so I get to see both aspects and how it can make a difference to someone’s life. 

     The biggest difference was getting used to working from home. I was used to the hustle and bustle of life in a service. I was afraid that I would be spending all my time looking at a screen and worried that I wouldn’t get to meet people. But I’m out visiting services a few days a week now. Ultimately that’s where I feel most comfortable. I prefer chatting to people face to face. I’m there to better someone’s life with PT and it makes me feel as though I’m still helping people, just like I did as a support worker, but in a different way.

    What has support work taught you?

    Supporting people with learning disabilities to carry out daily tasks meant that I learned skills I could use in my own life. I was very young when I started support work. There were lots of basic life skills I didn’t know about, like cooking, for example. Through supporting others, I learned how to cook a roast dinner!

    What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a support worker?

    Anyone thinking about it should definitely give it a try. My experiences as a support worker have given me a different outlook on life. I am much more positive and I appreciate things a lot more now. I think about simple things such as being able to communicate how I feel and what I want.

    We take for granted being able to ask for a cup of tea and to say what we want for breakfast. I’m a talker and a people person. A person we support might also be like that but they don’t always have a voice. I would never have learned to appreciate this without being a support worker. All of the skills and all of the memories – I will keep those forever.

    Holly Parker - Support worker to Personalised Technology Coordinator

  • How long have you been a support worker?

    This year is a milestone anniversary for me as I’m celebrating 25 years as a support worker with Hft.

    What did you do before you became a support worker?

    I worked for many years in my family business as a coal merchant. When the coal industry began to decline in the early 90s, I took on various jobs to keep busy, often working more than one job at a time.

    During this time, I was also a volunteer at ‘The Gateway Club’ in Wadebridge, which was a social club for people with learning disabilities. Some of the people who were supported by Hft in Cornwall came to the club to socialise, which is how I learned about the charity.

    What made you decide to become a support worker?

    Originally, I worked at Hft part time alongside my other jobs, it was just a way to earn some money. But I found that being a support worker was what gave me the biggest sense of achievement, so I decided to make it my full-time job.

    What is the best part of your job?

    I think the best part of my job is helping people I support to achieve their goals. I think support workers can bring their own individual strengths to the job. For me, it’s my interest in sport and fitness. I’m a former rugby player for the Wadebridge Camels and still involved in the club as treasurer. I’m also a keen cyclist and a member of an electric bike group. (We call ourselves ‘The Old Codgers’ Bike Club’!)

    I was able to use my interest in fitness to connect with a young person with a learning disability who had recently transitioned into adult services and was finding his new routine a bit challenging. I found out that he used to love swimming when he was in school but it was impossible for him to go alone as he required a lot of support. Together we came up with a plan to go swimming together once a week. We set a goal of swimming 24 lengths each and soon he was swimming up and down the pool with a huge smile on his face. He has a very unique way of swimming which causes a huge amount of splashing. I think he secretly finds it very funny to splash people as he swims past!

    What have the highlights of your support work career been?

    One event that stands out in my mind is meeting Princess Anne, when she opened Hft’s Rendle House, part of Valley View Farm, in Cornwall in 2003.

    Another highlight would be my years as chair of my service’s Staff Consultancy Group, where I was able to learn more about the social care sector, and the challenges it faces.

    What has support work taught you?

    Supporting people with different needs means I have learned to become more understanding, and more patient as a person. I’ve learned the value of treating each person as an individual, and I love building a relationship with everybody I support.

    Getting to know each person is really important. You need to learn what makes each person happy and what makes them anxious. I like to focus on their strengths and their positive traits. Humour is also very important in my job. It helps to build a rapport with the people I support. We laugh a lot.

    What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a support worker?

    Being a support worker is hard work with lots of responsibility, but it’s also a very important job and really enjoyable. You can really make a big difference to the people you support, you can actually change lives.

    Geoff Hawkens - 25 years as a support worker with Hft

  • How long did you work as a volunteer?

    I worked as a volunteer for two and a half years.

    What made you start volunteering for Hft?

    I had some experience of volunteering with people with learning disabilities a few years previously in my home town of Cork and I really enjoyed it. I think supporting people is in my genes. My mother worked for many years as a carer for elderly people including those with dementia, and my sister and niece both work in accessible education for children.

    Even though I was working full time, I felt I could spare a few hours a week. I saw an advert for volunteers for Hft, so started to visit people supported at Apsley House in Bristol and, over time, got to know all the people there. They were such a great bunch, and I got to concentrate on the more social side of support, like going on outings, arts and crafts, and supporting people to engage in the things they were interested in.

    What do you do now?

    Now I’m part of external communications team where we use PR activities and digital media to amplify the voices of the people we support and to champion their rights as equals.

    Part of my job is to share the achievements of the people we support and I love to celebrate when a someone reaches a goal. To you or me, it might be something small, like going out alone for the first time, or shopping for and cooking their own meal, but it can take a lot of planning and confidence for a person with a learning disability.  I think creating awareness and education by positive representation is really important.

    Do you think your experience as a volunteer helped you to get your new job?

    Definitely. I had a good knowledge of the charity and the services they provide before I went for interview, and I was able to demonstrate my understanding of the role through my experience of supporting people with learning disabilities in my volunteer work.

    In fact, I think in some ways I have an advantage over people who haven’t come from a service background as I have an understanding of how things work and I’ve seen first hand they types of individual needs that the people we support may have. It’s also helped me to build better relationships with support workers as I rely on them to be my contacts and to support people to give consent to stories and photographs that I use etc.

    What has working with people with learning disabilities taught you?

    I learned how to listen, how to communicate, and how to allow time and space for people when they need it. This is something that I can apply to all relationships whether personal or professional.

    I also learned how people with disabilities are often disproportionately affected by things like Covid and how they can almost be forgotten about by wider society. The pandemic was particularly difficult for people with learning disabilities and autism, not only as some may have been clinically vulnerable, but the change in routine was very sudden and even frightening for some people. I’m in awe of all the work carried out by support workers and everyone who worked on the front line in the health and care sector during that time, doing their best under such difficult circumstances to make sure everyone was taken care of.

    What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a volunteer or a support worker?

    I would encourage anyone to go for it. It’s an amazing thing to do because every day is different and you will learn something new each time. I would be lying if I said it was never challenging, but it’s definitely worth it. You will get more than you give.

    Valerie Healy - From volunteer to PR & Digital Communications Officer