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Back to the frontline…from CEO to support worker by Rachael Dodgson, Dimensions

We’re delighted that Rachael Dodgson, CEO of our member, Dimensions, shared this article with us where she documented a week spent as a support worker in London.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a full week working shifts as a support worker in London. It wasn’t because we were short staffed – it was because I wanted to remind myself exactly what the job of a support worker entails. I have been a support worker before, but not for almost 30 years. I tell anyone who’ll listen that being a support worker is a skilled, professional, varied and complex role – and I wanted to reaffirm that to myself.

I prepared carefully for my week. I made sure I was up to date with all my essential training, undertook the Care Certificate (not easy!), had a fresh DBS and familiarised myself with all the support guidance for the person I’d be supporting.

I was supporting a wonderful young man (Vivek) who has a very active and busy life, as well as having his own flat, and all the domestic chores that go with that. It’s been a long time since I’ve worked shifts and I found the late finishes and early starts tricky – but thousands of our colleagues do that all the time.

Vivek lives in a block of flats where other people are also supported. The team that I worked with made me very welcome and were happy to show me the ropes. I was mindful of how it might feel for them to have the CEO there for a week. But I was clear from the start that I wasn’t there to judge, I was there to learn, and for that week I wasn’t the CEO – I was a support worker just like them.

Throughout my week I couldn’t help but reflect on what’s changed in support work in the 30 years since I was one. On the plus side, I noticed how much Vivek was a part of his local community. Every time we went out together someone from the neighbouring streets would stop by to say hello and have a chat, and he was welcomed into local shops and businesses where people clearly knew him well and were pleased to see him. That felt very different to life 30 years ago – I remember overt discrimination towards people with learning disabilities was rife. I’m not saying it doesn’t exist anymore – sadly I know it does, but looking through my Vivek-shaped window was hugely positive and that allowed me to celebrate the progress we’ve made.

Person Centred Active Support (PCAS) is embedded in how we work here in Dimensions, and I did lots of that during my week as a support worker. This made me reflect on how differently people live now – 30 years ago I was working in much larger residential homes where staff, not residents did the cooking and the laundry. Finally, I reflected on how much more documentation there is to complete, and IT systems to get used to.

When I returned home from my last shift of the week, I felt quite emotional for several reasons.

I reflected on what a wonderful week I had. I felt I’d connected with so many people during my week and it was sad to say goodbye.  But the biggest thing that made me feel emotional was saying goodbye to Vivek (although I’ve promised to stay in touch).

So, would I do it again?  Absolutely – I’ve made a commitment to do this for a week every year, although I’ll go to different places each time.

To anyone else who’s a CEO or senior manager reading this, I’d encourage you to do the same thing. I’m sure like me you make regular visits to the people you support and your colleagues, but that is no substitute for immersing yourself into the role of a support worker for a week. I have no doubt you’ll have a wonderful and thought-provoking week, just like I did. And if you’re a journalist or politician reading this, why not find a local support provider and ask to do some shadowing? You might just have a life-changing experience.


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