Rising Stars

Anna Lewkowicz is Home Manager at OSJCT’s Gregory House.

Career history

I started my career in social care in 2007 as a care assistant at Spalding Care Home which had 56 beds. I loved this role and stayed with the home for ten years, completing qualifications and learning a lot. My manager at the time was a huge influence on me. I didn’t have any desire to become a registered manager but she pushed me and started to give me some of her responsibilities. I didn’t realise until afterwards that I think she was training me up to take over her role, as she had plans to move on.

When she left, I became Acting Registered Manager and the decision was made to make it permanent. I’m still in touch with my manager from the service and I owe a lot to her. She recognised my passion and drive to learn and gave me the push I needed to further my career.

I left Spalding Care Home in 2017, moving to a bigger service with around 80 beds. Although I still enjoyed the role, I found that being in a larger service meant I couldn’t have the same relationships with residents and staff as I’d had at the previous home. Building these relationships is a key part of the role for me, and it’s so important to know the residents and their families, as well as all of your staff.

I looked for a new opportunity in a smaller home and found The Order of St John’s Care Trust (OSJCT) were looking for a manager for their care home, Gregory House. I was delighted to get the job, especially as the home had just received an Outstanding rating in a CQC inspection in late-2017.

Organisation

Gregory House has 31 beds and looks after elderly people who need a little extra support to go about their daily lives. Many of our residents are people who were living at home by themselves and didn’t want to be alone any more. We also have one or two people who are living with dementia. We take both local authority and self-funded residents.

Our aim is to make Gregory House as homely as possible – we view it entirely as the residents’ home and they’re involved in all the decisions. This could be about menus, activities, or the running of the home. Two of our residents are an integral part of our interview panel, giving us their opinions on any potential new staff and allowing them the opportunity to ask questions of interviewees that are important to their own lives.

We do as much as we can by way of activities to make our residents’ lives fun. We listen to what they want to do and structure activities around that. Six volunteers come in regularly to run singing sessions with residents, support them to take part in gardening or to take residents out to the shops.

We have a lot of long-service staff, which is great because it makes the home feel like a family. For us, coming to work isn’t a case of doing a job – it’s our life. We recognise that the people we support are people, with histories and lives ahead of them. We work with colleges and local churches to ensure our residents are seen by the community and appreciated for the people they are. I don’t believe in residents having to give things up when they move in to a care home – we just need to find new ways of doing them.

Current role

I started here in January 2018 but have been a registered manager since 2015. I find that different providers do things differently and picking up knowledge from my previous roles in terms of new approaches has helped me to settle in to my current position. The registered manager position definitely becomes easier with time as you learn ways of handling things that you know will work – as well as those that don’t.

Being a registered manager was never something that was on my radar. I have been led here by the people around me and, now I’m here, I’m so glad I was. I wouldn’t change the path I’ve taken to get here – it’s been a learning experience and I couldn’t do the work I do now without the knowledge I’ve gained up to this point.

I always thought that being a registered manager would be a lot of work, responsibility and pressure, and I think I was right. One of the most difficult parts of the role is that you have to oversee everything. I make sure I’m involved in the day-to-day work – helping in the kitchens, working with residents and taking part in activities. I’ve seen managers who spend their time in offices and I’ve worked under people who are visible and more involved. The latter approach is definitely for me as I find it makes it easier to know what’s happening on the ground.

I feel privileged to be part of someone’s life in such an important way and I love pushing my passion onto others – if you’re excited about what you do then your staff and residents will ‘catch’ it. This is not a 9-5 job. You take it home with you whether you like it or not so it’s hugely important that you actually like it.

Supporting people to do things they want to do and be silly and ultimately give them their lives back is really rewarding. And having this relationship with our residents means that I can identify when someone seems unwell or upset. Our residents’ families are reassured that I know their loved one and they’re looked after.

On the other hand, keeping everyone happy can be challenging. I try to encourage staff to join in with activities, even those that don’t necessarily suit them (some don’t like singing for example), but it can be tricky to get people to show their silly, human side.

It can also sometimes be hard to get residents to gel. We are like a family, but there can be cliques, and ensuring new residents feel welcomed and comfortable is sometimes difficult.

Rising Stars

I didn’t know about the Rising Stars programme, or even that OSJCT was part of the National Care Forum, until Jo Blackburn, our Quality Director and Caroline Dunagan, Assistant Operations Director emailed me suggesting I enter. I immediately said yes and did my research into the programme afterwards.

I was surprised and honoured that Jo and Caroline had seen this potential in me, that I could be something more in the future.

I’m really enjoying building up my network of people in the sector. Having a mentor and attending events means I am learning innovative ways of improving that I can take back and implement in the home. Lots of people have ideas for improvement but often they don’t work. The Rising Stars programme is encouraging the sharing of these ideas – so you already know it’s worked elsewhere before you start.

It can be difficult to share information and ideas – often it is seen as a competition – but I’m a big believer that sharing is key to development. Before Rising Stars I was guarded; if something went wrong, I wouldn’t necessarily share that with anyone who didn’t need to know. Now I can see that sharing experiences, even ones that haven’t gone well, can help everyone learn.

It’s been eye-opening for me that other homes and managers face the same struggles as us at Gregory House. It’s nice to know that others are in the same boat – that you aren’t alone or failing. Having those days out of the home to reflect and see that you are doing a good job is invaluable.

I hope to build on the connections I’ve made and to keep meeting people, and to stay in touch with the others in the programme after it’s ended.

Advice

I think it’s important to know that, wherever you are in your career, you will meet people and you will find your way. I always tell people that if you want to achieve, you can. Grab the opportunities, ask questions, take part in training and trials. It might take you a while to get where you want to be, but you can do it. I also believe that managers should lead by example and never ask someone to do something they wouldn’t do themselves.

Senior management should show support, and reward and showcase good work and what can be achieved – including sharing financial information so registered managers can see what is available for development of their services.

Anna is part of the second cohort of Rising Stars. This innovative programme, developed by National Care Forum and supported by Carterwood and apetito, 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

Missed any of our previous Rising Star interviews? They’re in the CMM archive – sign in required. Not a member? Sign up today, it’s FREE for care providers.

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