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Name: Shirley Andrew

Job Title: CAREGiver

In 2003, her father, who was suffering with heart problems and Parkinson’s disease, saw his health deteriorate. Still at home with daughter Jen, Shirley started to take on more caring responsibilities.  In 2006, whilst still caring for dad Rod, Shirley’s father-in-law passed away suddenly. She started to help the family to support her mother-in-law who, whilst in good health, was in need of companionship.

“My siblings helped and visited dad when they could, but I lived the closest and had more time, so it made sense for me to help out the most. I certainly never realised what I was doing for dad was ‘care’”, Shirley admits. “I’d always thought of care as helping people who need to be taken to the toilet or helped into bed each evening. What I was doing was sitting and talking, going to the supermarket or helping with some housework. To be honest, I feel privileged to have spent that time with him, and in many ways, I got to know more about my dad in those days than I might otherwise have done. I discovered that he had worked with horses when he was younger, developing a real love of shire horses, which explained his numerous ornaments around the house. One of our more poignant conversations was when he shared with me how his mum dying when he was only eight years old had really affected him.”

Caring for her dad over five years, Shirley loved what she was doing but she didn’t realise it was possible to do it as a job and so didn’t act on her instincts. “I saw so many gaps in care for the elderly. There are thousands of people, like my dad and mother-in-law who just need companionship, someone to talk to and take an interest in them and their lives. It was something that had come completely naturally to me but in my mind, being a carer was something very different and I discounted it.”

Hitting rock bottom

Shirley was keen to get back into work and with a strong CV after her time in the NHS, she was ready to jump straight into a new and challenging role.

She says: “I felt I had a lot to offer, but I was being told different. I’d been for numerous interviews for a range of roles, none of which led to a job offer. The real ‘what’s the point’ moment was when I went for a job as a GP receptionist and I was told that I had been out of that working environment for so long I would need to fully re-train in all areas of office work as I was classed as unskilled. It came as a huge shock and it really affected my self-esteem and confidence, which both hit rock bottom. So I drifted along with a few cleaning jobs, feeling pretty much that that was how the rest of my working life was going to pan out.

“Whilst reading my local paper, I saw an advert for Home Instead Senior Care. It reignited that spark – caring for my dad had come so easily and gave me so much satisfaction. At the back of mind I always came back to thinking that maybe there was a way to be a carer without working shifts and doing the personal care side of it. I sat on the idea for a week as I was still feeling a little bruised and I wasn’t sure if it was right for me.”

 From nervous chat to not looking back

Finally finding the confidence to make the call, Home Instead arranged for her to pop in and see them.

“I just thought, why not try. By then I was 56 years old and I had nothing to lose. I got such a nice feeling as soon as I walked into the office, which I think is really important. I always babble when I’m nervous though, so I thought I’d blow it as I wouldn’t be able to shut up. But instead, I was offered the job there and then, subject to references.”

Shirley saw that there was an alternative to what she thought was the only way care was provided. She says, “I thought personal care, which I was nervous about, would be the main part of the job and it absolutely wasn’t. Whilst clients do often need help with personal care, we’re there to do much more than that, it’s about giving them independence and confidence to keep doing the things they love. That wasn’t the only thing that convinced me though, it was just their whole approach. You read all the stories about 15-minute visits and not being paid for travel time or all of those things. For those people who felt like I did, who wanted to go into care but were worried, there’s another way.”

After completing her training, Shirley started working as a CAREGiver in March 2016 and she’s not looked back since.

Poetic visits with Peggy

“It felt natural to me from day one. It’s important to build a relationship as everything else hinges on that.  I’m a chatterbox so it wasn’t too hard but some people aren’t ready to accept they need a bit of extra help and so I take everything at a pace they’re happy with.”

Caring for six clients, Shirley now works four days a week. One of her clients is centenarian Peggy who lives with her daughter and son-in-law but benefits from a weekly companionship visit with a poetic twist.

Every Wednesday morning, Shirley helps with the morning routine; getting out of bed, bathing and dressing, and then making breakfast.

“Peggy absolutely loves poetry and I read to her most weeks. Whether it’s the classics like Wordsworth or Keats, or the Oxfordshire poet Pam Ayres who is one of her favourites, it really brightens our morning. We will often say the words together, which is lovely and at 100, she’s remarkable. I recently brought her some audio poetry CDs and she adores them.”

Shirley’s time supporting her dad is never far from her mind and it’s what makes Shirley so determined to give her clients their independence and the support to do the things they still love.

“Dad was a very keen gardener and kept a beautiful garden which had been central in keeping him going after mum died. He won lots of medals and cups in the local horticultural shows, and was very proud of his achievements. The last couple of years gardening became difficult for him. It was only after reading his diaries after he died, that it struck home how depressed he was about that, and heartbreaking to read that he felt ashamed that he was no longer able to keep it the way he always had. My brothers helped him a lot when they could but there just wasn't enough time to do all that was needed.

“Everything I do is about giving people the confidence to carry on with what they love, but with the reassurance that someone is there. It may be as simple as standing outside the bathroom door whilst they bathe, but it’s encouraging them to do things that otherwise they wouldn’t have the confidence to do – and it’s about building trust.”

 My niche in life

Reflecting on her new career, Shirley says. “I just love the whole thing – I’ve never once had Monday blues.

My husband and my daughter have noticed how much happier this job has made me. My daughter said to me earlier this year, ‘I’m so proud of you mum’. There’s not much more I can ask for than that. They knew how low I was feeling before I got this job and they’ve seen the difference it’s made. You definitely get far more back than you put in.

“I’m just an ‘ordinary joe’ who’s struck lucky and found my niche in life. I’ve never done anything better or more rewarding ever. I don’t see me doing anything other than this job for the rest of my life – I’ll even carry on beyond retirement age, why not?

“Who’d have known that caring for my dad for the last five years of his life would have led to something so positive - thanks dad, you’ve changed my life in ways you never knew.”