The County Durham Care Academy is providing vital support for those considering a career in health and social care. PETER BARRON talks to a mother of twins who is one of many to have benefited from the expert guidance on offer

IN her mid-forties and having taken a 16-year career-break to raise her twin boys, Louise Hall admits she was anxious about trying something new.

Now, with the help of the County Durham Care Academy, she’s found a fulfilling role as a support worker in a well-respected County Durham care home, and says: “It’s no exaggeration to say it’s turned my life around.”

The County Durham Care Academy was launched by Durham County Council in September 2019 to support the county’s many independent adult social care providers in developing a valued and skilled workforce.

Louise came across the organisation purely by chance while browsing through Facebook and an advertisement for training courses caught her eye.

“I really liked the look of it, but I assumed it was just for school-leavers at first,” she recalls.

However, Louise was interested enough to find out more. She contacted the Care Academy and was reassured enough to sign up for a six-week Level 1 course in adult social care that was held online due to the pandemic.

“I was 45 at the time and really nervous about going in a new direction that was out of my comfort zone,” she admits. “But the tutor was fantastic at putting me at ease, and the other people on the course were really accepting and supportive.”

Louise, who had previously worked for an estate agency, loved learning about the social care sector and passed with flying colours. Part of the agreement with the Care Academy was a guarantee of an interview and that led to a job with Kaydar – a residential care home and day unit in Shotley Bridge.

Kaydar is run by devoted couple Noreen and Gus Burns, who launched the business 32 years ago, and are still going strong, having successfully negotiated the challenges of the pandemic.

“We called it Kaydar after our two children, Kayley and Darryl, because we wanted it to be a reminder for all our staff to treat service-users with the same dignity and respect that they would want for their own family,” says Noreen, pictured below.

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Before launching Kaydar, Noreen had spent a long time in the care sector, working as a nurse and a warden for the elderly in a career that included 11 years with Durham County Council. Gus brought a personal perspective from having a brother with learning difficulties, so the couple decided to transform an ordinary house into a care home.

More than three decades on, they remain committed to providing the best possible care, with eight people with learning difficulties as residents, as well as running day unit services.

Although it hasn’t been able to happen during the pandemic, service-users are normally involved in the interview process at Kaydar to make sure the right people are recruited.

And Louise, who lives in Consett, has become a valued member of the team following her thorough training with the Care Academy.

“She fitted straight in because she has such a caring nature. People can have all the qualifications in the world, but it’s never going to work unless they have those core principles that are needed,” says Noreen.

“She’s been amazing. She came in during Covid, amid all the protocols for infection control, and that can be really daunting. But she took it all in her stride and has been a wonderful asset to us.”

Noreen describes Louise as “a gem and a complete natural” but she also knows how much she benefited from the expert guidance on offer during her training.

“The Care Academy has been a godsend – making recruitment so much easier than it would be otherwise,” she says.

“If we take someone on without any training, it can be very time-consuming and laborious, but the Care Academy cuts all that out. We still do on-the-job training, of course, but the preparatory work done by the Care Academy saves us so much time on core training modules.

“They also take on the police checks, which also saves an awful lot of administration work. Time has been one of the biggest challenges during Covid because of all the extra paperwork, so that support has been invaluable.

“The Care Academy staff are so helpful and easy to deal with and, because of their input, Louise was able to hit the ground running when she joined us.”

She does 20 hours a week in a variety of morning, daytime and evening shifts that give her plenty of flexibility.

And the Care Academy’s support didn’t end once the course had finished – they continue to monitor her progress, offer her feedback, and are on hand to discuss any problems she may have.

“I absolutely love the job and I get so much satisfaction from knowing I’m part of a team that’s helping to make a difference to people’s lives. I always try to take the view that I’m working in their home, and I consider that to be a privilege,” she says.

“Every day is different and there’s so much to learn. I just want to take in as much as I can and see where it leads. I know there are plenty of opportunities if I want to take it further.”

Louise is now doing a Level 2 qualification in health and social care and her advice to anyone considering a change in direction is very clear: “Don’t be scared – just go for it and grab it with both hands.”