Jane Colenso, Operations Director for the South West region, shares her journey on the life of a social care worker, with Dimensions.
In 2002, I was a single mum with three children, finishing my Master’s degree. I also needed to work, so when I applied to Dimensions, I certainly didn’t expect to be here almost 20 years later!
I initially applied for an Assistant Locality Manager (ALM) role, which I didn’t get. However, I was given the opportunity to become a relief worker; this meant I could choose my shifts around my other responsibilities. The flexibility was a huge plus, but I quickly realised “working” was becoming my favourite part of the week. Every shift was wonderful, it didn’t feel like a job, and it made me feel great. I decided this was what I wanted to do, so after six months I became a permanent colleague.
I supported a number of people in two different houses. It’s important to remember that for you, it might be work, but for the people, we support it’s their home. I learned the role and after a couple of years, I was promoted to ALM. This meant more responsibility and different duties. I had to learn about admin and bureaucracy, but I was still hands-on supporting people. Just six months later I was given the chance to become a Locality Manager (LM), this meant I managed the team and two locations.
Over the next years, I was asked to set up new houses for people and sent in to troubleshoot others when a problem might arise. My team grew in size and responsibilities, yet my love of the job and the joy of supporting people never waned. Eventually, I became a Super Locality Manager, responsible for managing 2000 hours of support a week.
Last year, the position of Operations Director (OD) for the South West became available, and I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, it wasn’t my time, and I wasn’t successful. However, the first choice candidate declined the role, and I was offered it as a six-month secondment. This meant I could learn on the job and fill in the gaps in my experience. Then COVID-19 hit…
It was a strange time for everyone. I was now responsible for eight LMs, 40 properties and 143 people we support; it was potentially very daunting. I decided to focus on how we could keep the people we support and colleagues safe and motivated. Activities had suddenly stopped, and once busy lives were quiet. I worked with the team to create a structure and simple routine. Mornings were a time to relax, then lunch, an afternoon activity, dinner then TV or a walk in the evening.
I held twice-weekly video calls: ‘Monday catch up’ and ‘How did the week go?’ on a Friday. Managers were sharing ideas and photos of activities with each other. Competitions were organised, beauty sessions were held in gardens and I sent cream teas out as a treat.
As COVID dragged on my secondment was extended for a further six months and then in March this year, it was made permanent.
I’m incredibly proud that five of my eight managers are staff that have come through from teams I have managed. I love to nurture talent. I read once that in World War I when the British army was faced with a challenge they would identify who in the ranks might have skills that were relevant. So subordinates would lead projects and superiors would learn from them. I love identifying colleagues’ skills and interests, then giving them responsibilities and titles. It gives them a chance to shine and develop within their roles.
One huge success in my 12 months as OD was to reduce the use of agency staff from 17% to 0%! To me this isn’t about saving money, it’s about the people we support having continuity in their staff so that they feel secure and can thrive.
I have loved what I do every day, even the challenging ones. I do miss supporting people, but I get sent photos, videos, stories, and updates that make me feel like I am still involved.
Hearing that someone has gone swimming for the first time in 40 years and loved it, supporting someone to go on the holiday of a lifetime to Florida, or seeing the face of a lady with profound and multiple learning disabilities light up when she is shown her face mask during a beauty session make my days. I feel every achievement.
Over 19 years I have been listened to, supported and nurtured by Dimensions. I have gained qualifications and skills that I could never have imagined. This job isn’t about the money, but if you want to feel good about what you do every day, then give us a go. If you commit, you will be rewarded. Dimensions provide all the training, it’s what is inside you that’s important.