David spent 13 years working on the railways but found himself looking for a new challenge when the industry was privatised. He took a job at a children’s home and stumbled upon the vocation that would change his life. 21 years, an ‘Outstanding’ rating and an award win later, he says it’s the best move he ever made. Here’s David’s story…
Hi David, it sounds like your early career was tough. What was that like for a young lad in his teens?
There was never a dull moment with 3,500 men working at a massive rail plant, that’s for sure! In those days, you just followed your father into an industry, and mine happened to work on the railways. I became an apprentice plate welder and worked all over the North East, moving from place to place as each plant got closed. When the Government privatised Darlington Railway Plant, where I was working, I took redundancy and ended up working for a private company in the North East.
How did you go from that to working in a children’s home?
There was a lad I was working with who started doing relief work at a local children’s home and he told us about it. I was really interested, so I applied for a job at a place in Newcastle as a support worker. I was really lucky because the place was run by a family and I was welcomed in with open arms. It was a big home, with eight children living there, and the work was completely different from what I’d been doing. But I took to it like a duck to water!
What was it like to work with children who had emotional challenges and complex needs?
The summer I arrived was a really nice one, and so we took the kids out and about to do different things – we were never in! Every single day we were out at the coast, or in the countryside, and I got to bond with the kids really quickly. Anything they wanted to do, we’d do – ice skating, camping, swimming, jet boating, you name it. The kids were amazing.
How did you work your way up to management?
The manager at my home took me under her wing – she and the rest of the staff were really good and very experienced. During the time I worked for her, she encouraged me to do my level 3 NVQ and then my level 5. I was never academic at school, but I found I had a flair for it. I also did my manager’s award. In 2012, I started my first management job.
What was it like to take over the service?
When I arrived, the home had been declared ‘Inadequate’ in all areas. They were putting the wrong kids in the home for the wrong reasons, and it showed. The week I arrived, we were inspected, and I hadn’t had a chance to do anything, I was still on my induction! I had to do a massive overhaul of the place, strip it bare, rewrite all policies and procedures, train the staff and start again.
That sounds incredibly daunting, how long did it take for you to turn things around?
Within three months we’d satisfied everything they’d required. The following inspection, we were ‘Good’ overall in every area, and we’ve stayed that way ever since. In the last two years, we’ve got an ‘Outstanding’ in leadership and management. In 2018, I won ‘Registered Manager of the Year’ in the North at the Great British Care Awards, which was fantastic.
What is your favourite thing to do in your role?
I do a lot of paperwork now I’m in management, so I love it if I can get involved with the children. That’s where I get the most enjoyment, so I do the big trips like taking them to the Blackpool Pleasure Beach and things like that. I love it when the kids come back after they’ve left and show us what they are doing now they are adults. A lot of young people try to block out being in care, but the ones who leave us always come back to visit.
What does it mean to you to do a job that changes people’s lives?
There is nothing better. Reflection is everything in this game, so I encourage all my staff to reflect on good days and bad. Our philosophy is, ‘Every day is a new day’ because our children are going to make mistakes at times. But when they get up the next day and realise we aren’t judging them for yesterday, you can see the relief on their faces. It makes the biggest difference.
What advice would you give anyone considering a career in care?
If you are willing to listen, willing to learn and want to make a difference, then this is the job for you.