THE LIFE of a support worker is a far cry from the role most people envisage.
That’s the call from one young man passionate about his career in care – as the charity he works for sends out an urgent call for more applicants.
Heart of England Mencap supports individuals with learning disabilities, working across Warwickshire and Worcestershire.
Services range from day activities to residential care, with supported living, short breaks, respite and outreach also a key part of the charity’s work.
But these absolutely vital services – enabling those with learning disabilities to live the life they choose – desperately need more support workers.
People like Joe Johnson, a 23-year-old who began working as a social support worker for Heart of England Mencap three years ago.
Prior to that Joe, a young father-of-two from Stratford, was assistant manager at a pub.
But he wanted to find a career that he loved:
“My brother worked for Heart of England Mencap and encouraged me to give it a go,” he said.
“At first I didn’t think it would be for me – I believed the care worker stereotype as most people do, but I went for it and I have never looked back.
“The role of a support worker is just that – to provide support, it isn’t all about personal care, it’s about supporting individuals in whatever they want to do, helping to build their confidence and make their own choices.
“Together you set goals – and seeing them achieved is hugely rewarding.”
Joe works on a rota, meaning each day offers something different.
But one day a week is spent with George, who Joe acts a keyworker for.
They first met at the start of Joe’s career in care back in 2012. They now spend one day a week together, doing whatever George chooses. It could be shopping, meeting friends, going for a bike ride, bowling, clay pigeon shooting, a trip to Birmingham.
“We do whatever George wants to, and it’s the same for all of those I support, whether they want to go out or stay in. It just doesn’t feel like work – I get home at the end of the day and I think ‘oh I enjoyed bowling today’ – that’s the reality of the job,” Joe says.
George doesn’t fit the stereotype either. He lives independently in his own flat – with support on hand if he needs it. He works as a green keeper, gardener and tree surgeon and dedicates one day a week to his love of golf; a love that has seen him recently competing in the Special Olympics.
But that wasn’t always the case. When Joe first met George he lacked the confidence and independence that he wanted. The two have worked together – with the support of the team at Heart of England Mencap – to achieve it.
Long hours and bad pay are another myth Joe is keen to dispel. He works 40 to 50 hours per week, but it’s a career that is entirely flexible, full or part time. And the pay is good – between £20,000 to £30,000 full-time.
“I love my job – I couldn’t do a job I didn’t love,” Joe adds.
“The key things are social skills and patience – if you have those, give it a try.”
Full training is given to all successful applicants with a range of qualifications to be gained in everything from first aid to child protection. Whilst qualifying and afterwards – all staff have all the support they need.
The situation facing the charity is serious – job vacancies advertised can receive only one or two responses.
Heart of England Mencap put out a call for people to see care as a career back in 2014 and has since attended careers fairs to find recruits, but still staff are urgently needed.
The charity’s Chief Exceutive Helena Wallis says: “We desperately need support workers, they are absolutely key to the work that we do. There are definitely a huge number of myths surrounding the role; people imagine it is a confined routine of being indoors and providing nothing but personal care, but that is just not the case.
“We want people to support our customers in living their daily lives as independently as possible, yes helping them at home with cleaning or cooking if that is what they need, and there may be a need for some level of personal care in some cases, but more than that it’s about building their confidence in going out, in getting into work, into pursuing their interests and building their futures.”
Support workers are needed across Warwickshire and Worcestershire, with flexible full and part-time positions available now.
The charity regularly looks to a variety of other roles as well, in finance or communications for example.
Chief Executive Helena Wallis spoke out in 2014 about the chronic lack of workers the care sector can suffer – calling for care to be seen as a career.
She cited the charity’s Operations Manager Hayley Hemmings as an example.
Hayley started as a support worker, being promoted to team leader, manager, then registered manager and then registered care home manager.
The next step up saw Hayley appointed Operations Manager for Heart of England Mencap – a position in which she is responsible for managing the operations of a charity with a £2.8m turnover.
“This example just shows the career path care can take you down, and it is one which is too often overlooked,” Helena said.
For more information call 01789 298709 or go online at www.heartofenglandmencap.org.uk