In the first of two blogs to mark Learning Disability Week, we celebrate those who provide services so that people with a learning disability, autism or both can live in the community, with the right support, and close to home. A Mencap support worker tells us about the challenges and the rewards of her role:
Support work – two small words that encompass so much.
I rather stumbled into support work quite by chance after a major upheaval in my life, not knowing anything about the job or, indeed, much about learning disability.
Coming from a background of administration and running a training business with my late husband, I was more than surprised that I was offered the job at all. Little did I know during that fateful job interview two years ago, how those two little words – support work – would take over my life… or how much I would love it!
I work for Mencap in Bury St Edmunds, and am a support worker to several ladies and one chap, though I do tend to support two of these people more than some of the others.
I’m based at a group of individual homes set in a garden location, all very close to each other, so there is lots of interaction between both the residents and the staff. Indeed, many staff work in more than one of the services, which helps bring everyone together and work as a team rather than individuals.
How do I describe support work? Well, and I’m being honest here, it is rewarding, exhausting, satisfying, frustrating, immensely worthwhile, hard work, spirit-lifting, fun, at times heart-breaking and, for me, utterly fulfilling, all in equal measure.
Yes, the shifts can be long; and yes, the pay is nothing to write home about; and yes, no-one really likes sleeping on a bed dozens of others have slept on! But oh, the pure unadulterated joy that runs through your veins when a person you are supporting flashes you that huge grin of satisfaction at achieving a much-strived for goal – it could be putting on their shoes, or being brave enough to get on a bus for the first time, or making a card for their Dad, anything and all things others may take for granted – that is better than any narcotic in existence.
As I had no background in care whatsoever, and because I am also a woman of a certain age (57, as you’re asking) with quite a lot of other life experience under my belt, I had no preconceived ideas about what was expected of me or what I expected from the job.
I think in many ways this has helped me because when I run up against the inevitable challenges this kind of work throws at you daily, I often use lateral thinking – and sometimes a good dollop of pragmatism – to solve difficulties. And as anyone who knows me will tell you, I am somewhat shall we say, tenacious! I think the phrase “she wouldn’t let it lie” – thank you Reeves and Mortimer – is probably tattooed across my heart, as I believe it is for every support worker.
When the world has low expectations for the people we support, when they are constantly told by society “no, you can’t do that”, when they are ignored or overlooked, when they do not get the healthcare they deserve and are entitled to, that is when we, as support workers, can put a metaphorical hand under their elbow and say, “yes actually, you can”.
Of course, support work involves a lot of mundane chores too, and I won’t pretend that doing several loads of washing, getting it dry again, cooking, cleaning, changing the beds, doing the weekly food shop, administering medications, and a hundred and one other things is always exciting, but that is only a part of what we as support workers do.
Domestic chores and personal care are probably the entirety of what the rest of the world sees as care and support work – haven’t we all bridled at some point hearing the phrase “oh, he/she is just a carer”. Just a carer? Hmmm, all I can say to that is come along into my world for a few hours and then see if you think care or support work is “just” anything!
I love my job and have gained far more from the people I support than I have ever given to them. People with learning disabilities are just that, people first and foremost, and they must never be defined by their disability. I have never laughed so much in any job I have ever had, nor felt so passionately that we as a society can do so much more. More integration, more acceptance of difference, and dare I say it, more kindness.
I’ll finish by saying a huge and heartfelt thank you to all my colleagues – where would I be without you? And of course, most importantly of all, to all the people I support – you are truly and utterly amazing every single day.
- Learning Disability Week runs from June 18 to 24 and is an opportunity to share good practice and celebrate the positive differences people with a learning disability, autism or both, are making. The theme of this year’s campaign is health and how we can all work together to make health and care services better.
- For more on Learning Disabilities see our Learning Disability pages.