Martyn White was working 70 hours a week as a chef, missing his weekends and playing football, and in a “very bad place”.
He lost his job and went through a period of unemployment, spiralling into depression. “Life was just getting on top of me,” says Martyn, 29. Inspired by his dad, who was switching careers in his 40s, Martyn went to college to study admin and IT. Now admin manager with Balhousie Luncarty care home in Perthshire, he also supports the kitchen staff when necessary.
Martyn credits the care home, its staff and residents for turning his life around. “It’s the wee things like getting a thank you from residents that makes the job worthwhile. This is the most supportive environment I’ve worked in. It’s night and day to what I was doing before and a love it.”
“I love the daily interactions with residents, and building upon the friendships I have with them,” says Harry Scott, a 24-year-old carer working in nursing home in Broughty Ferry, Dundee. “They confide in me about their personal issues, and their stories are mindblowing. The concentration of life experiences all under one roof is a fascinating thing and something I never tire of listening to.”
Harry joined Balhousie Moyness from the NHS. He says the difference in working in the private sector is palpable. “In a hospital you’re dealing with patients who will, hopefully, get better and leave again. A care home is the last place these residents will live. I’m convinced that’s where the family atmosphere comes from. We’re all working together to make this the best experience possible for our residents, and that makes us such a close-knit team.”
The added bonus, say both Martyn and Harry, is mucking in to help one another. “In the hospital I worked in, there were strict delineations for everyone and you weren’t allowed to cross that. Now, I’m able to join in activities or take breakfast up to a resident who just wants to sit and chat. I think that crossover is important, and again it builds the team spirit.”
Ben Haddow, head chef at Balhousie Luncarty, is proof that joining a care home can be not just a career boost but a confidence boost. A former plumber, he was “earning good money but didn’t want to go to work in the morning”. Looking to do something more worthwhile, he joined his local care home as a domestic. He quickly moved into a carer position. Then, when management got wind that he was a good cook, he was put into the kitchen.
Reticent at first, he soon gained confidence. He’d been brought up by his grandmother and learned all his cooking skills from her. “So in a way I’m just back cooking for my granny again, although in a much bigger setting!”
Ben’s carer experience means he’s hugely involved with the residents. “I always go out and check on them to see how they’re enjoying their meal. We make a point of consulting our residents on menu options, so we turn it into a ‘Come Dine with Me’ type activity where they score the meals and decide what goes on the menu.”
Added to that, Ben has one-on-one time with residents. “There’s one guy in particular who loves his morning coffee and chat with me in his room. I make a point of taking time out from the kitchen to do that. It’s one of his few connections of the day.”
Ben’s unique approach to running the kitchen – where residents very definitely come first – resulted in a national award win at the 2019 Scottish Care Awards, where he was named Rising Star. He also reached the finals of his local Chamber of Commerce Awards as Employee of the Year.
“A year ago there’s no way I would have had the confidence to be up there collecting an award. I’m thrilled to bits. I never want to do anything else.”
Kerrie Nevin is a specialist care support worked at ASC, an advanced specialist care unit in Perthshire. Every day she works with people with severe learning disabilities and challenging behaviour. Her job itself is one of the most challenging care roles out there, but she believes it can also be one of the most rewarding.
“Here the care provided is less clinical and focused on enabling individuals to live as independently as possible,” said Kerrie.
At the moment, Kerrie works in one of the unit’s bungalows where she provides one-to-one care for a resident there along with another support worker. “It’s more intensive and so rewarding. The gentleman I look after at the moment – I can’t even express the difference in him since he moved in here. When he first arrived, he couldn’t communicate at all, but now he communicates by touching the right and left side of neck for ‘yes’ and ‘no’.”
Since having her own family, her experience working with children with special needs has helped her better understand the needs of one of her sons who has autism. “I have a child with special needs and I’m aware that he may need a unit like ASC at some point in his future. It makes me see things differently – through a parent’s eyes as well as the eyes of the care professional. We might be looking after a 24 year old man, but that’s someone’s child, someone’s son.”
Kerrie’s advice to anyone considering joining ASC is to really understand the environment before applying. “At ASC, you need to be able to hit the ground running, understand why people are there and the scenarios you’re going to face. It can be physically and emotionally challenging, but you are also working in an incredibly positive environment where you can make a real difference to a person’s day-to-day life.”