a man wearing glasses and a shirt hands some fruit to a client in a wheelchair in the garden

It is a sector where you can develop a career through experience. You don’t need a degree. You can start at entry level and work through.

“Southdown makes a conscious effort to make teams as diverse as possible”

I’m a Service Manager at a Supported Living Service where we support five adults with complex health issues and mild to moderate learning disabilities.

I started work for Southdown in 2009. I was working in hospitality and I wanted to feel I was doing something more worthwhile for the community.

I researched companies with the best ethical reputation and a friend brought me an application she’d noticed for a job in Southdown.

As staff I do think we are valued. I’ve had wonderful managers and wonderful experiences with Southdown and that’s hopefully filtering down with my position.

My responsibilities are to oversee the running of the service. I set up the day and I check that everything will flow.

The day can change in a moment. It’s a paradox because what’s great about the job is also what challenges me the most.

It’s a big staff team and very diverse and inclusive which I love. We work with a lot of different ages, ethnicities, nationalities and sexualities.

I think that Southdown makes a conscious effort to make teams as diverse as possible and I think it’s very important to have different opinions and perspectives.

You have to learn to adapt to something you don’t always agree with. Sometimes what clients want doesn’t always fit with professional or personal views of staff teams. You are supporting a person to live independently and you also have a duty of care. It’s not always simple. It often requires a lot of relationship building with the client, staff, family, and other people who might be involved with helping meet the client’s wishes.

In my job I’m constantly talking to external professionals because of the complex health issues, for example doctors, occupational therapists, physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, and Carelink. There’s a lot to do.

Before this role, I was an Acting Manager for seven months. My first job at Southdown was as a Support Worker and then I became a Senior Support Worker in the same service. I worked in other services occasionally and then as a Senior Support Worker for a year. After that, I worked as a Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) Senior Support Worker for one year.

The first job was in a five person supported living house. It was just at the time that a new person had moved in from a secure unit. She was a musician who wrote her own music. A member of the band Heavy Load also lived there, so I became really active in supporting him to music events, concerts and conventions.

As a Support Worker, I went to London, Berlin, and Scotland! We toured in various places in the UK and other disability events for Heavy Load and also helped promote  the Stay Up Late campaign. It was great!

It was a great introduction to show that support work can be a very dynamic job. Some days I thought, “I’m getting paid for this!”

I worked there for four and a half years before I felt like I needed a new challenge.

A manager there was very good at finding me new things to do. We started facilitating the Community Support. I was involved in supporting clients who lived in the community and who came with a different set of needs and issues, such as mental health issues, alcohol and substance misuse. I needed to tap into a new set of skills and I was continually learning. This meant I was engaged, motivated, focused. It was a lovely supportive team which is so important for a novice.

Support work is all about communication. That’s so much a part of the job. And it’s about adapting communication to your clients’ needs and finding different ways to communicate things.

The best thing about my role is that I really enjoy working with the people who work here and the clients who live here. I really enjoy learning the things a Manager does that a Senior Support Worker doesn’t do – it’s like the next level. You learn to multi-task and prioritise.

When I don’t know something, I can very easily access it through my line manager. I can also phone other managers for help and advice. It’s a real community and that’s what we’re trying to develop rather than feel isolated in a service. It’s supportive and it allows us to share what’s going on. We’re constantly learning through that dialogue.

I’ve noticed a shift from being a PBS Senior Support Worker where the focus is on clients and their needs, to that of a Service Manager where the focus is on staff.

I’m proud of myself and the commitment I’ve put into Southdown. I find that you get out what you put in.

My previous manager there saw I was committed and helped me access all the training including appropriate external training.

Right now I’m studying for the Certificate of Health and Social Care ‘Leadership and Management Level 5’. I’d done Level 3 previously which helped me become a Senior Support Worker.

I’ve noticed that the organisation will tap into people’s skillset and further their development.

I’ve learnt that each service is totally unique, but that you can transfer skills and adapt.

I think people don’t understand the complexities of what a support worker does. You need a lot of skills.

It is a sector where you can develop a career through experience. You don’t need a degree. You can start at entry level and work through. Neil Blanchard, our Chief Executive, used to be a Support Worker. And that’s inspiring.

I want staff to feel really supported and part of a supportive team. I try to do very thorough and very supportive inductions because I think that will give them a positive outlook. I tell them about all the training available and the different divisions within Southdown. I also give them examples of career development here as I think it’s motivating.

I have a lot of respect for Southdown because it has helped me achieved a lot in the years that I’ve worked for them.

Southdown manages supported living services across Sussex. Supported living is where an individual owns or rents their own home and has control over the support they get and how they live their lives. Accommodation and support is provided separately. It can be very different for different people. For one person, supported living might be a few hours of support a week to enable them to live independently by themselves in a rented flat. For another it may be around the clock support in a shared house or self-contained flat.