Throughout January, we have been exploring how mentorship holds the power to shape us into the people we become in both our personal and professional lives.
This led us into conversation with none other than Helen Barr, a care assistant who came to one of our sister homes, Heanton Nursing Home in Devon, with very little experience in care. Earlier this month, I had the privilege of meeting Helen, where she shared with me her journey into her role and just how important mentoring has been in empowering her to become an integral part of the Heanton team.

So Helen, can we start off with you telling us a little bit about your background with care and your journey into the sector?

Of course! I took my first steps through Heanton’s doors when I was just 18 years old, way back before it was part of Evolve Care Group. At that time, I was thrown in at the deep end with minimal training and not the first clue on how to approach and care for someone who lives with a Dementia.

I very quickly became completely overwhelmed with a job I felt I was not qualified or ready to do. I left after just a couple of months and tried a different home in Barnstaple where I was horrified by the lack of dignity expressed towards the people who lived there. They would be put into their bed clothes at 4pm and be sat in the living room with nothing to engage with or to keep occupied by. It was a very negative atmosphere, and it broke my heart to see human beings treated as if they were incarcerated.

Having these experiences made me come to the decision that care was just not for me and I spent the next 18 years working in Tesco’s as a supervisor. I had reached a point where I knew I wasn’t going to progress any further there, and so when I saw an advert for the role of Care Assistant at Heanton, I decided it was finally time to give it another shot.

What did you find different about your second experience going into care work after all those years away?

I was nervous after the last time, but I soon realised there was no reason to be. The home was now looked after by Evolve, and the difference was noticeable immediately. I began with training in the classroom with Jay, who is part of the mentor and welfare team, and I was completely blown away with how much had improved since my last experience, it was amazing. He used clear terminology and metaphors that taught us all about the behaviours that come from living with a Dementia. Having the knowledge straight off the bat gave me the confidence to go into a vulnerable environment. This time round I was actually excited to put what I had learned into practice, not heading in nervous and without a clue. I joined Heanton when Covid was on the rise and the training we had with PPE was just wonderful, it was clear the team had been very quick to act from the get-go. Because of that, those who live with us were well supported throughout because we all understood how important it was to come together and we did what was needed to be done.

Heanton has a buddy system in place for new team members which allows them to receive 1:1 mentoring from an experienced mentor to help them build confidence in their new role.

What sort of mentorship did you receive throughout those first few weeks at Heanton?

After three days of classroom training, I was buddied up with Klaire, who’s an experienced care practitioner. She was so patient, taking the time to show me around and introduce me to everyone which allowed me to get to know their individual needs and personalities. She expanded on what we had learned in the initial training with Jay about personal identities and the importance of learning the life stories of everyone who lives with us. I learned so much about humans’ vulnerabilities, and what to pay attention to.

How beneficial do you feel the 1:1 mentoring was alongside your training?

Very! It helped me to put all of what I had learned in the classroom into practice while it was fresh in my mind but being guided by Klaire really helped it to stick and obviously you only really properly learn by experience, so seeing how Klaire was with everyone was a great place to start from in terms of body language and how she responded to different situations that came up. After a few months at Heanton, I also had the chance to be mentored by Sandra who has experience with complex care, and she taught me how to care for people who live with complex conditions. I have learned so, so much working with our team and being able to build that trust with our family members and create that continuation of home has been the highlight of working here for me.

Because of my training, I’ve connected with one particular family member and have been able to get to know her really well, while also being able to comfort her and meet her needs in the right way. Through what Sandra has taught me, I know what all of this person’s behaviours and responses mean and in turn, I know how to respond to her. Something I never would have had when I was 18 years old due to the lack of mentorship and training.

And something this place has taught me is that there is always more to learn.

What do you think it is about Heanton that made your experience a positive one this time round?

Heanton Nursing Home really has a group of incredible care givers here, and it’s not just the carer’s, it’s everyone. I can’t quite explain it. I never feel any dread or negative feelings about going to work because it honestly just doesn’t feel like work to me, it’s a family. In a way we all mentor each other and are better off for it.

I think this is felt by everyone and has created this community that feels really special. Heanton has given me something I can pour my heart into.

Finally, do you have any advice for someone starting out in care who might be too scared to take the plunge?

Just go with it, and always ask lots of questions. Look at the training the organisation offers and make sure you receive the level you need. Other than that, enjoy it. I wasn’t in the right place when I came to care all those years ago. If you really want to be something, don’t let one bad experience put you off. If you do the right research and find the right care setting for you, be prepared to become a part of a new family and enjoy what will hopefully be many wonderful years making a real difference to people’s lives and your own too.

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