Lisa Lee

I realised at a young age (17) that I would prefer not to work for a living.

Looking through all the leaflets and pamphlets of career opportunities, I figured the best way to avoid ‘working’ for a living was to find a job that I enjoyed.

I started my career working at Anglesey Lodge, Home for Autistic Young Persons in Alverstoke, Gosport. There were 25 people in total, aged between 18 – 25, male and female. It was a step on from the sister operation, Hope Lodge school in Southampton and only supported ‘kids’ with an autism diagnosis. It was a 40 week placement with the ‘kids’ going home every weekend and every holiday. They shared rooms, bedding, towels and baths meal times were on a rolling rota – with no deviations, ever!

During the day, there were three groups.

A Group were the able ones with the ability to speak. Seven in total. They were allowed to participate in lace making classes (collars and cuffs and doylies), they made small wooden stools and macramé owl pictures.

B Group were the in between ones, some could speak but limited skills. Nine in total. These were the explorers, they were allowed out everyday on the huge old rickety minibus that needed a crank and a push to get it started. They went along the beach and ate ice cream just after breakfast, they went on picnics and walks in the woods and gathered flowers for A Group to press.

C Group were the not able group, although no one required support with toileting! Nine in total. Personal time was high on the agenda for these people, so focussing on anything other than making fairy cakes, watching TV and stopping them annoying each other and breaking things was the main role of the support worker. All of C group were non-verbal and we didn’t have total communication tools as these were not yet invented, so body language, pointing and physical interventions were most common.

I didn’t have much choice about what I did or when, I turned up for work and supported people that were bigger and older than me. I loved it – it wasn’t a job, being paid to walk along Stokes Bay with an ice cream at 09:45 or make a stool or go swimming on a Thursday and a trip to the pub on a Friday lunchtime (staff were allowed to drink alcohol) was a cop out as society and my friend group joined the rest of rat race.

I referred to them as the ‘kids’ too, probably because I didn’t know any better. We worked as a team – because we would have been annihilated if we didn’t. Each staff member had their roles – I was female so did the cooking and the cleaning and the washing and the bathing.

We did not have any paperwork to do, nothing was recorded. Medication was in the Boots MDS system and was very effective (thank goodness!)

I stayed there for six years, I carried two children in this environment and returned to work after a suitable period of time…..

I learned an awful lot during this time, but I knew I needed to learn more if I was ever going to be a voice for those who could not speak up for themselves, but I never thought I would be clever enough or have the confidence to do so, so I left to work in a pub.

The pub life was easy and suited me for a few years, until I reflected on where my roots were and I could see the transferrable skills between the bar maid role and the support worker role. Figuring I needed a whole career change, I embarked on a Degree in English in 2001 because I thought I wanted to be a teacher and this is the way to start.

It wasn’t for me. I finished my Degree and joined a nursing agency. I was full time employed within 3 months, and became a SSW 9 months later. I wanted to learn how I could support people to find their voice, and in 2001 the legislation had become purposeful and accountable –  I was awarded my first Registered Home Manager position with CIC in Portsmouth in 2003 and was fully compliant under NCSC regulations and got a Good outcome on my first inspection. 7 further Registered Manager positions  (all Good’s) with a variety of other providers and stepping up and down into senior manager positions found me as the Director of Care for a small organisation that supports people (30) with severe challenging behaviour nationwide.

I realise now, the skills I learned during my early career, working in a challenging environment and just getting on with it had taught me some incredibly valuable lessons.

I am still learning everyday – most lessons come from left field and from the people we support

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