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Real Voices: It’s time to care for our care workers’ wellbeing

Marina Glaves is the manager of Beechy Knoll Residential Home in Sheffield. Along with her staff, she has been working with the Support Social Care Heroes scheme for several years. In this week’s Real Voices, she discusses the huge importance of supporting care workers’ wellbeing.

I started work with social services in 1975, joining Sheffield City Council initially as a cook for people who had physical disabilities. After a couple of years, I decided I liked the look of working in care. I applied to an acting up scheme, and got work in several residential units. I moved my way up, and eventually became a manager in 2001. Sheffield City Council decided to decommission all residential units, so I then went to work in community support services with people who had physical disabilities. I worked in home support with older people for a couple years, but I missed the familial spirit of residential homes. I took early retirement, but became restless. Through an agency, I then started doing care planning for people with learning disabilities. I then finally became manager at Beechy Knoll, where I’ve been for six years.

I was asked if Beechy Knoll would take part in the pilot scheme of Support Social Care Heroes (SSCH), and enthusiastically agreed to it. It’s always been very important to me to take care of staff wellbeing, to enable them to carry on supporting the residents. We’ve been involved with SSCH for a number of years now, and they’ve been a great help to our staff and really boosted their morale and wellbeing. SSCH brought ingredients for a smoothie-making session, which was really great fun for our residents and staff. Due to the success of the session, a relative of one of our residents bought a smoothie machine for the home, so we’re able to make them for staff and residents all the time. Our staff have also been treated to aromatherapy massages through SSCH, and sessions with fitness and nutrition experts who advised them about how to stay well and look after themselves. SSCH have done informational sessions with the staff on everything from the menopause to healing crystals to bracelet-making.

Finally, SSCH are currently building us a wellbeing pod, which will be a retreat for the staff. It’s so essential for the staff to have a quiet place to take a break and relax for 20 minutes. They can gather their thoughts and come back rejuvenated. I personally have taken the SSCH Overwhelmed Managers course for 12 weeks. On this course, we were encouraged to look inward for some self-reflection. As a manager, you tend to take everything on because you worry that if you delegate it to someone else, it won’t be done correctly. We were taught on the course about setting boundaries and managing our own workload, to make sure we’re not taking on too much. Our deputy manager at Beechy Knoll has just started the same course, which I hope will be as beneficial to her as it was for me.

I think there’s a real lack of understanding about the heavy mental, emotional and physical toll that care work takes on the people who do it. You’re looking after people who in some cases are in the advanced stages of dementia. They don’t know about their own condition, and they don’t understand what’s happening so they can become frightened and confused. In some cases, they can turn violent and try to fight you off whilst you’re attempting to help them bathe or get dressed. It can be very distressing and overwhelming as a carer. This is the reality of care work, so schemes like SSCH are so important to keep carers well and make sure that they can carry on doing this vital work. It actually makes you think about people who are caring for relatives in their own homes. As care workers, we can ask another member of staff for help if a resident is distressed or difficult, and once our shift is over we get to walk away and switch off from it. Whereas if you’re dealing with a relative at home, you don’t get to walk away. It must be so difficult.

The rewards of care work though, can be incredible. If you’ve been away for a couple of days for example, and one of the residents with dementia recognises you on your return and smiles. They ask where you’ve been, and you can tell they’ve missed you while you were away. Moments like that make the job worthwhile. The kind of support that SSCH provides staff means that they can continue to do this vital job. We need carers, and to keep them we need to take care of them properly.