Younger people are being urged to consider careers in social care, with the support of County Durham Care Academy. PETER BARRON talks to a home care worker who found her perfect job as a teenager

LUCY McDougal thinks about her grandparents every day. It is one of her biggest regrets that she didn’t spend more time with them before they passed away, but they are her inspiration in the job she has quickly grown to love.

Lucy, who grew up in Consett, works as a responder in home care – going into people’s own homes to give them vital support in their day to day lives by meeting their social care needs.

It was a career that began when she was 18 and, two years on, she’s ‘100 per cent sure’ she’s chosen the right path.

“I’ve lost all my grandparents too early, and I have a sense of regret that I didn’t make the most of them,” she admits.

“But when I’m doing my job, I’m always thinking about how I’d want them to be cared for, and try to do the same for others.”

In fact, Lucy loves her job so much that she’s passionate about wanting to promote careers in social care to more young people -

“Most people who work in care tend to be older people, but I find it so fulfilling that I’d recommend it to young people who want to go home at the end of the day knowing they’ve made a difference to someone’s life,” she says.

Lucy didn’t have a clear plan when she was growing up but enjoyed health and social care classes at St Bede’s Catholic School and Sixth Form College, in Lanchester, and went on to study the subject at A-level, along with medical science.

Her mum, Marie, is a district nurse, as well as working at Willow Burn Hospice, in Durham, so she was a strong influence.

After her A-levels, Lucy gained experience as a home care health care assistant with a local company and admits it was an “eye-opener” at first.

“I didn’t appreciate how much was involved in an individual’s care – I’d never seen anything like it before – but I was hooked from day one,” she recalls.

Her introduction to the profession proved to be a baptism of fire because one of her early shifts turned into a 999 emergency when the person she was caring for fell ill. Lucy stayed calm, called an ambulance, and gained confidence from managing her first crisis.

“Although I’d been unsure about what I wanted to do with my life, I knew from that moment I’d found a role that suited me perfectly,” she says.

After two years in that first job, she became a responder with Supportive, a Ferryhill-based charitable organisation providing home care services across County Durham, as well as providing patient transport services, and volunteer driving services, to support people to attend health appointments.

By joining Supportive, she was reuniting with the company’s Head of Home Care, Kirsty Armstrong, who’d been her mentor during the early stages of her career.

Kirsty, who also started as a carer during her teenage years before climbing the career ladder, says: “I saw something in Lucy that I don’t always see – great drive and natural empathy. She reminded me of myself when I was young.

“Nothing fazes her. She tackles everything she does with great skill and compassion. She’s just a beautiful soul and people want to be around her because she’s so positive – she’s like a daily injection of B12 vitamins!

“I’ve no doubt that she’s a future leader, , and she’s a shining example of the benefits that young people bring to employers in the care sector.”

Kirsty says the qualities needed to be successful in the social care sector include having ‘get up and go’, compassion, empathy, strong communication skills, positivity, and the ability to stay cool under pressure – and Lucy has those in abundance.

County Durham Care Academy was set up by Durham County Council in 2019 to help the county’s independent social care providers to develop a well led, skilled and valued workforce, and it’s been a great source of support during Lucy’s career. Training sessions made available to her have included first aid, moving and handling techniques, care planning, risk assessment, and bariatric care.

“County Durham Care Academy has been a massive help from day one, helping me to develop my skills,” she acknowledges.

Lucy’s role as a responder can involve working with the elderly, people with learning difficulties, those with complex care needs, and children. She loves the variety of meeting all kinds of people and being able to have a positive impact on their quality of life.

“When I’m with an older person, I could listen to them all day because their memories of things like the war are so interesting – they have me in tears at times,” she says.

And Kirsty agrees that careers in caring are a great way to bring young and old together. “You can never learn too much from older people and having young care workers bridges the gap between the generations in such a positive way,” she says.

Having built her confidence, and knowing she’s found the right role in life, Lucy now wants to go on listening, learning and developing her career. Her plan is to study for a foundation degree in nursing, knowing that the County Durham Care Academy can again support her through its links with North-East colleges.

“I want to take it as far as I can because caring has become my passion. I can’t imagine wanting to do anything else,” she says.

And, as she continues to build her career, her grandparents will be in her thoughts every step of the way.

“I hope they’d be proud of me,” she adds.