I started my career in social care in 1995. I’d previously been a horse-riding instructor, so it was a big switch, but my Mum had always worked in the care sector so it seemed like the obvious choice when I needed a ‘proper job’ to pay the bills.
I began by working nights in a care home. I saw a lot of bad practice and eventually left to work at a council-run domiciliary care agency. I spent 14 years there and received a lot of training, but there was no real progression and I got stuck in a rut. Councils then started to sell-off their care services and I wanted something more secure.
I got a care and support worker role at the St Monica Trust’s Sandford Station retirement village and, eight months later, I was asked if I wanted to apply for the senior care and support worker role. It was so rewarding to know that people in the organisation thought I could do it – it gave me a confidence boost to have this recognition.
Two years later, a new manager came in and I reported to him. I worked closely with him and our then operations manager; I was offered opportunities such as visiting other services and being involved with the early stages of development for The Chocolate Quarter in Keynsham. When our registered manager had the opportunity to transfer to another site, both he and the operations manager spoke to me about applying for the retirement community manager role. I took a few days to make the decision, but after lots of conversations with family and colleagues I decided to apply and was successful.
The St Monica Trust is a Bristol-based charity and Sandford Station retirement village is one of five retirement villages it operates across Bristol and North Somerset. As the name suggests, Sandford Station is built on an old railway station and we still have some of the old buildings, including the station and a section of the platform, which is home to an original engine and carriages. The retirement village includes the Russets and Sherwood, which is a 73-bed dementia care home and a separate 32-bed general needs care home. I am responsible for the retirement village side and the on-site care and support team.
We have 108 apartments, with 109 residents at the moment. There are a lot of single occupancies, but we do have couples living with us too. We have residents that live with us in the village whilst their loved one lives in the care home, knowing that they are close by and not needing to travel long distances to visit.
We deliver care to around 30% of the people living in the village, so have lots of people who are still very independent and active. We run classes like Zumba, Keep Fit and soft-tipped archery and try to encourage residents to organise their own activities too; after all it is their home, so we want them to have a sense of neighbourly spirit – as they would in any other village.
Being a registered manager was something that I had never really thought about for myself, but I had quite a good idea of what it would be like, as I’d worked closely with my manager before he left. I knew there would be a lot of paperwork and being tied to the office. I can definitely see the need for it, but you need to make sure that you don’t get so bogged down in admin that you forget why you are there. I haven’t walked away from the care side completely and would step in to help if needed, but to be honest I’m really enjoying the new challenges of working in a slightly different way. It’s quite refreshing to have such a change after working so long in the sector.
Part of what I love about my job is having great teams around me, not just the care team but the wider teams too, like admin, housekeeping, catering, porters and maintenance. They all make a difference to the lives of residents. It’s amazing to see the difference we can make to relatives too, allowing them to go back to being family rather than carers. It’s also rewarding to enable someone to remain in their home at the end of their life; seeing how this impacts not just on the person we are supporting, but the families, who know their loved one is able to have a good death.
As a manager, it can be difficult to meet the expectations of residents and, at times, staff. Everyone wants the best and it can be hard to convey why we can’t do certain things.
For residents, we are hoping to start on a piece of work to help them understand the complexities of consent. You’ll finish with one resident and bump into another further down the road who wants to know what’s happened or how that person is, and we can’t always say. We are trying to make sure residents understand confidentiality, dignity, respect, and that, as much as we are a community, we as staff still can’t talk about a lot of things.
In terms of my future career, I’m really happy where I am and want to continue to develop the role that I’m in. I don’t anticipate any immediate desire to take on a bigger role, but who knows? If you’d asked me five years ago whether I’d be here today, I would have said no.
NCF Rising Stars
I was nominated for the NCF Rising Stars programme by the Trust’s Chief Operating Officer, Kevin Hall and Director of Operations, Donna McDermott. Both approached me and asked if I would be happy for them to nominate me. I had been to the NCF conference at the end of 2018 and had seen the Rising Stars there, so I knew about the programme and had already read up on it. I thought it would be a great programme to get into but I didn’t pursue it, so when Kevin spoke to me, I was really shocked but said yes straight away without needing to think. I was really proud and pleased that the Trust wanted to put me forward for something like this.
I’m most looking forward to the mentoring side of it. I think it’s going to be beneficial to meet someone from outside the organisation who can help me with new skills and ideas.
All of the Rising Stars cohort met recently and we have already started talking to and supporting each other.
I’m hoping the programme will help me to develop my leadership skills, push me out of my comfort zone, make me try different things and give me opportunities that I would never normally get to experience. I’d like to work on my self-confidence so that walking into a room of people and networking doesn’t faze me. It will also be interesting to look back in a year’s time and see how I’ve been able to implement what I’ve learnt from the programme at Sandford Station.
My advice to aspiring registered managers is to know that nothing is unachievable if you want to do it. Nothing should hold you back, whether that’s your background or education – you don’t need a university background to get where you want. Take all the opportunities that are offered to you and don’t let things put you off. Link in with people, ask questions, build a good team – it will make it a lot easier. Also, accept that the job will be a lot of paperwork.
I think that senior management can help by making sure there is enough support for current staff. Mentoring within organisations is important. We do it for care and support workers but I don’t think it should stop, no matter how high in the organisation you are.
Now in its third year, the NCF Rising Stars Programme addresses the need to invest in and develop the skills of the next generation of leaders in social care, with registered managers from the NCF membership selected to take part each year.