"Becoming a Care Assistant in the midst of a pandemic changed my career aspirations."
More than just a job
Like many, Toby experienced some big life changes throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, and as a result was left feeling like he wanted to make a positive difference. After leaving Sixth Form, and what had become 'online school', a chat with dad, encouraged Toby to make the decision to apply to become a Care Assistant at his local residential care home, Westall House. Now, Toby loves his job and says it has formed a path to a career he never planned for, but can't wait to pursue — becoming a Paramedic.
Tell us a bit about you and your background.
“I have an older brother and sister, two dogs and cats. I’ve lived in Horsted Keynes for the last three years after moving from Surrey. I really love living in Sussex, although it is impossible to go even for a walk without encountering a hill!
“I went to boarding school where I studied Maths, Philosophy and Theology and History at A-level and come September, I’ll be heading off to Newcastle University to study Philosophy. I like to play sports in my free time; football, tennis and hockey, which I’ve played competitively since I was seven. I once completed a 50 mile run in 11.5 hours and represented Surrey Athletics in February 2020, which I am very proud of. I used to enjoy doing a lot of theatre at school too, I acted and directed a set of comedy sketches as part of an arts festival in my penultimate year – which was fun!”
What made you want to pursue a career in care?
“I never thought I would end up working in a Care Home, but after I had finished a couple of months of online school in lockdown one, and officially left school, I felt as though I was doing nothing to help with the pandemic. It was my dad who initially suggested that Westall House was hiring and this perked my interest, as I loved the idea of being able to do something that was helping in my local community. Admittedly at the time I had no clue what I was getting myself in for, but I started 8 days after turning 18 and I felt so welcomed, even from my initial online interview. It has been an honour to be a key worker at Westall over the last year.”
What’s a typical day at Westall House like for you?
“As soon as I park my bike outside work, I get jump-scared by Emma from her office (it's my fault, I did it first) and as soon as I've managed to change the thermometer from Fahrenheit to Celsius to take my temperature I am greeted with high energy and smiles from the staff on duty. There's always good stories to hear and tell before handover. The vibe is always positive – there’s always a good hustle and bustle around the house.
“On a morning shift (7:30am-2:30pm), we start by getting breakfast out to the residents, which they have in their rooms. We then help them to get ready for the day and I try my best to remember what time the residents are having FaceTime calls, visits from family or the district nurse and what activity Heather has planned etc. to make sure they are ready in time! If all goes to plan, my notes are done before lunch time and a lot of the hard work is done. After lunch, we make sure that all of the residents are settled and happy before we handover to the afternoon staff.
“On an afternoon shift (2pm-9pm), the first task is either a drinks round or for one lucky person, emptying the clinical waste bins! Although this may not seem glamorous, I love doing this (please don't tell my colleagues as they'll make me do it every time) as I get to go into every resident's room with a big yellow bag and say hello. The only problem is that I then get distracted and end up chatting away with residents and colleagues.
"If you are 'downstairs' on an afternoon shift, one of the big jobs is laying up the supper trays for those that choose to stay in their room for dinner, so we go around asking what cakes and fruit they’d like. Often in the afternoon, there is some quiet time which means we spend more time with the residents and in the recent hot weather many of the residents like to be taken around the garden – I often pick some flowers with them. I go to all lengths to make the residents laugh and there is one particular resident that loves to go at high speeds in their wheelchair... who am I to deny them an opportunity to go go-karting around the house?! Don't worry, my Moving & Handling training is up to date and I passed my driving test last year! After supper, we help the residents get ready for bed and try to make life as easy as possible for the Night staff.
“Speaking of, I did Night shifts (8:45pm-7:45am) between November 2020-April 2021. I thoroughly enjoyed them and will go back to them again. A night shift consists of helping to get any of the other residents ready for bed that like to do so later on in the evening, doing the laundry, setting up the dining room, breakfast trays, sorting out the pantry and cupboards, and of course answering and responding to any call bells during the night.
"I am absolutely convinced that some of the residents have walkie talkies and they all deliberately ring their bells at the same time (my record is picking up four calls at once, but Katie has me beat with a whopping six!). In the morning, there are some early risers that like to have breakfast and/or get ready before the morning staff start their shift. Tasks such as getting the butter out in advance are certainly appreciated by the morning staff who I'm sure are aware of my *almost* perfect record of not forgetting to do this.”
How would you describe your role and what’s your favourite part about it?
“Working as a Care Assistant is active, challenging, hands-on, interesting, but most of all rewarding. I love being able to cover for my colleagues, especially those that are so desperate not to do their shift that they crash their car (Jonathon), flood their house (Christelle), or find themselves in isolation! Of course, when the residents are happy, we are too. Whenever a resident is grateful or tells me I made their day I feel the same response towards them.
The great thing about a career in care is that the options are unlimited. There are other options outside of a care home as well, such as care at home, nursing or becoming a Paramedic, like I hope to one day.
"My role has also taught me to appreciate the little victories - a resident with dementia remembering my name, as well as the big victories such as when a resident's quality of life has improved. Another victory that springs to mind is when some of the female residents became comfortable enough with me to allow assistance from me as a male carer. Some residents had not encountered many male carers before, and so their initial apprehension was understandable, but it was so nice once the residents got to know me and these barriers were broken. Now they don't think twice about who is helping them and they are just grateful to be receiving it, which I find really valuable.
“From a practical perspective I like how flexible my job is. As I am bank staff, it is easy to book time off, but when I am around I can sign up for a lot of shifts, and the option of full days means it is easy to get the hours in. When I come home from University, I know that during the holidays there will be the option to come back to Westall and pick up shifts, which is really useful. I look forward to doing this as I miss the residents and my colleagues after just a week of annual leave.
"I love that I have never come home from a day of work at Westall and said that I was bored. There is always something to do and you are always busy although it is hard work, so it’s important to take time off sometimes. The location of Westall is one to be coveted and I love the sunsets across the field that many of the residents have as their view during the evening. I would definitely recommend applying for a job at a care home if you were thinking about doing so, regardless of your age or gender.”
What opportunities for progression are there with a career in care?
“There are lots of opportunities for progression for a career within care. Being a Care Assistant comes in conjunction with training that can be very useful to a lot of roles. Being able to countersign for medication was a step of progression that gave me a better understanding of some of our resident's needs. One of my colleagues is currently studying a Level 3 Diploma in Adult Care which will enable them to become a Senior Care Assistant. Another colleague also recently made the transition from Senior Care Assistant, to Head of Care.
"The great thing about a career in care is that the options are unlimited. There are other options outside of a care home as well, such as care at home, nursing or becoming a Paramedic, like I hope to one day. The role of Care Assistant is sufficiently challenging and so different every day, which is why so many people will more than happily stick to this as opposed to moving elsewhere.”
Where are you hoping to be positioned in 5 years time?
“I will have finished University a couple of years before, and I hope that I will be training as a Paramedic. This is not something I had considered before I entered the care world, but I have loved so much helping out others, that I think this is the job that I will enjoy the most.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“I took a couple of months out from working at Westall to be a gapper (a student on a gap year) at a Preparatory school over the summer term; I was involved with the learning support, grounds staff, COVID testing, working as a Teaching Assistant and more! I enjoyed this as it was a very different role and an alternative to the travelling that I had initially intended to do on my Gap Year. I loved it, but I did miss my role as a Care Assistant and I was very excited to return to work at Westall once the term ended.”