I started my career in care at the age of 16. I had intended to stay at school to do my A-Levels and become a social worker. However, I undertook a placement in a care home and loved it. They offered me a job and I accepted. I stayed with that care home until I was 24 and had my first child. I then worked part-time until I had my second child at 26.
For the next 10 years, I raised my family, but after having my third child, I decided I wanted to go back into care work. By this time, it was 2010 and we had moved to the Isle of Wight. I really loved working in care and helping people, so it was only natural that I’d want to go back.
When I re-joined the care workforce, much had changed; there were now NVQs, which I hadn’t undertaken previously. My first job back was in a nursing home where I undertook my NVQ3. I enjoyed my time there, but there was no progression from healthcare assistant and I wanted to develop my career, so I applied for a more senior position at another care home. Whilst there, I was promoted to deputy manager and stayed with them for a year.
After that time, I was offered the role of deputy manager at a smaller home that was struggling. The home was non-compliant and in administration. Within a few days of starting, the manager left and I suddenly became acting manager.
It was a scary time, I had six weeks to turn around the home, which had multiple non-compliant issues, including safeguarding. But I did it. I had a really good CQC Officer who stayed in contact and supported me through the process. It was a very helpful relationship.
Within the six weeks, the home was compliant, out of administration and in a position where it could be sold. I stayed on for another six months but decided I wanted to return to a not-for-profit provider.
It was at this point that I was approached about a role at a specialist home for deaf people. Again, this home was non-compliant and losing money. I accepted and within six months the home was compliant again. Whilst I was there, I mentored one of the care staff into the role of deputy manager to support me in the turnaround and running of the home.
Once the home was compliant, I had achieved what I set out to and it was secure as a business, I decided I wanted to take on a new challenge. I mentored the deputy manager to take over from me as manager and I left to come to The Briars, where I am now.
I still keep in touch with the manager at my former home, she’s still there and doing well.
When I came to The Briars, I stepped into the shoes of a long-serving manager who had achieved a Good CQC rating, with Outstanding for caring. I’m one year into the role and we’ve just received an overall Outstanding rating, with Outstanding in responsive too.
I’m very passionate about what I do. Residents always come first. We offer a very personalised service. It’s so much deeper than daily choice. We undertake detailed life history work with clients to give them a meaningful existence and empower them.
We’re a specialist dementia home and it’s those ‘minute moments’ that we have with people that make all the difference. They may not remember who you are, but they will remember that connection, that meaningful companionship. This is the ethos of the Eden Alternative, of which we’re members. We’re even known to break into spontaneous singing and dancing.
When I moved into my current role, I didn’t know what to expect. When you are a care assistant, it’s a very important job. You are making a difference to people’s lives on a daily basis. As a manager, you are making a difference on a greater scale – not only to your clients, but also their families and your staff too.
Being a manager can be an overwhelming and lonely place. It’s unpredictable, you don’t know what’s going to happen and you have to be the swan: calm on top and paddling furiously under water. You can’t let that show and that’s where the support of the Rising Stars initiative helps.
As a manager, you have to accept what you can and can’t do. Recognise the potential in your staff; delegate, mentor and empower them. This can be hard, but you soon learn the hard way if you don’t do it.
The best part of my role has to be those ‘minute moments’, when you connect with your clients and you know you’ve improved their wellbeing in that moment. This then has an impact on other clients and staff too.
I also believe in the importance of skilling and valuing your staff. I send personal thank you notes to staff if they’ve been exceptional and gone the extra mile. I recently sent one to a member of staff who took time to sit with and support a person with severe dementia to choose lunch, getting down on their level, being patient, taking the extra time to enable them to make a choice over what they ate. It’s a simple thing, but makes so much difference to the person with dementia, by empowering my staff, they are empowering our clients.
The biggest challenge has to be the volume of work. It can be overwhelming. You need to find your work/life balance. My staff know I’m always available to help, but I need to have my family life too.
My regional manager, Sue Pearce nominated me to be a Rising Star without my knowledge, she just handed me the form to complete. I was honoured, flattered and also shocked. It’s great to have the network of support from the other Rising Stars and everyone involved. I’m really hoping to get some good mentorship out of the programme. I mentor a lot of people and have done throughout my career, so I’m looking forward to accessing this myself. There are areas I want to improve on and this will help me. We have an upcoming seminar where all of the Rising Stars are coming together for a media and marketing course, I’m hoping to learn a lot from that. Especially how to calm my nerves.
I’m not sure what the future holds for my career. I’m happy where I am at The Briars. However, I think over time I’d like to be able to help more people, maybe as a regional manager. I’d also like to be able to develop a programme of specialist care and dementia support. I’m very open with my management about my ambitions.
My advice would be to be a good person. Be grounded. Be humble. Be kind. Do things for the right reason. But be kind to yourself, accept that you can’t take on everything. Also, remember that every journey starts with a single step so be brave.
Something else that has stuck with me is from my CQC Officer. I recently messaged him to thank him for his support when we got our Outstanding rating. He sent back a single sentence, ‘You have to take responsibility for your own achievements in life.’ It’s true.
My advice to other senior managers would be, if you see potential, be honest, give honest feedback to help them improve, in a supportive environment. Also, just be there and remember that there’s no such thing as a silly question.
Nicky is part of the first ever cohort of Rising Stars. This innovative programme, developed by National Care Forum and supported by Carterwood, is designed to identify leading lights within organisations who will shape and form the care sector in the future. More information about the programme, the candidates and future opportunities can be found at www.nationalcareforum.org.uk