"I feel 100% safe to be who I am at work"

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A woman with mid-length blonde hair wearing a blue and white stripey shirt, sits smiling at the camera.

The best thing about my job is being surrounded by other people. It’s a rich environment in terms of opinions, ideas, and backgrounds. It’s very diverse.

From a very young age all I’ve ever been interested in was helping. This is the social model that was passed on to me from my parents and grandparents. They were very helpful people.

Doing care work I could see that this was going to be a helpful job – being there for others, making a difference in people’s lives.

My name is Tia. I’m a Deputy Service Manager at a residential home accommodating ten clients with mild to moderate learning disabilities. We support them with every aspect of their lives from personal care to helping and supporting them to cook meals, go out, and take part in indoor activities.

I first worked for Southdown from 2010 to 2015. I left for two years and then I came back to this service as a Waking Nights Support Worker. I was promoted to Senior Support Worker and then a year and a half later I was promoted to Deputy Service Manager.

I’m responsible for helping with the smooth and safe running of this home. As a Deputy I still spend time on the floor supporting clients. That’s still an enjoyable part of my job. I work to the rota system, do waking nights and sleep-ins but on top of support duties, I’m making sure the service operates well as a whole.

It’s really gratifying. There’s so much positivity. Although you give a lot, you get a lot back. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like you’re working cos you’ve created such strong bonds and rapport with clients. I’ve known some of these clients since 2010. When I came back to Southdown, people remembered me. These are long established relationships.

I was first attracted to support work when I lived in France. I used to be a football coach and one day a group of people with learning disabilities trained next to us. We got to know each other and then we just started playing matches together. It was really lovely. I really appreciated the different personalities, their sense of humour, and their warmth. That’s when I decided that working with people with learning disabilities was going to be my vocation.

At the time I was studying English at uni. After this experience I couldn’t see how English was going to help me help people, and working at a computer wasn’t necessarily my idea of fun back in the day! So I changed course and qualified to be a care worker because in France you need to take a qualification for this type of work. When I qualified I came to live and work in England.

I’m very passionate about what I do, I really love it. For me, it’s really crucial and important to enable people to live their best life possible. I want to see people progress and enjoy their life, maybe pick up some skills along the way if possible. It’s really, really important.

The best thing about my job is being surrounded by other people. It’s a rich environment in terms of opinions, ideas, and backgrounds. It’s very diverse. I work with clients who are non-judgemental. I’m transgender. That’s never been an issue to anybody. I’m just known as Tia. What’s happened previously in my life doesn’t come into consideration for the people I support here and that’s been lovely and refreshing.

I’m being accepted for who I am and what I do. If you’re a good, friendly, warm person and genuinely make a difference to people’s lives, then you’ll be accepted.

The key element for this work is to be a team player. Whether you’re a Support Worker or a Manager, you’re part of a team. You’re only going to be as good as your team. You need to have a certain level of empathy and patience. You’ve got to be a giving person really.

During this phase of the pandemic, we’ve been making sure our clients can regain the enjoyable life they were living before Covid-19. For example, going for a cup of coffee in a café and shopping. It’s really important we can give back some normality.We were a service where going out in big groups was the main form of enjoyment for clients. Now they’re going out with a Support Worker one-to-one and they’ve got complete undivided attention from staff. We’re no longer rushing to take everyone out every single day. Instead we have some clients who still like to go out every day and some who don’t. And that’s fine because we have indoor activities like painting and listening to music. There are different types of entertainment we can offer.

That’s something the pandemic has brought to us which is very beneficial - it’s enabled us to reassess and deliver an even better service to clients. Understanding their needs and delivering a one-to-one personalised service.

The level of safety we’ve had to install within work has of course changed. We’re working with more PPE, like masks, aprons, and gloves, and keeping clients safe and each other safe is our priority. As a Deputy Manager I’ve spent a lot of time on the administrative side of testing and training and everything that’s involved with that. It’s been extremely time consuming.

I don’t think we’re set to finish any time soon. Southdown has responded to Covid guidance by going above and beyond and that from an employer is priceless. It’s really important you feel safe at work and that your employer takes events outside of work seriously. It’s fantastic really.

I think Southdown is really remarkable in how it supports its staff. The training, particularly face-to-face training pre-Covid, and the scope for progression, is second to none. Whether you’re interested in promotion, training, or just coming to do your work as a Support Worker, at any level, you’re going to feel valued.

Southdown is very client-focused. It will always put the client first, but the staff are never left behind or forgotten about. I feel valued. And my own experience speaks for itself. I was first employed at Southdown as a white European male member of staff and I became a female member of staff. I started as a Support Worker and I’m now a Deputy Manager.

I felt 100% supported coming back to work as a woman. I was working for Southdown when I started my transition. I spoke to my manager and said that I needed to make some changes in my life and I explained that I was born in the wrong gender and I was going to start transitioning as a woman. As an employer, Southdown has been really supportive and very understanding in the difficult period that followed that. I’ve been supported with my mental health issues and during a period of self-harm. My managers have been extremely understanding in that. Southdown has always been so lovely to me. You don’t find many companies that support you through thick and thin.

I feel 100% safe to be who I am at work. The clients do not judge me. It doesn’t matter that yesterday I was a man and today I am a woman. What matters is what I bring to my support work and that I remain the same person inside – still friendly and helpful, everything a Support Worker should be.

This organisation is the way it is because of everybody at every level in every department. Right across the board I think Southdown is recruiting the right people and training people in the right way. I’ve met so many lovely people working here and I sense that people actually want to go to work.

Southdown manages five care homes registered with the Care Quality Commission for people with learning disabilities. Accommodation and support are provided together as a full package of care. Our staff provide 24 hour support for people with personal care, mobility, health, behavioural and communication support needs.