When Sara Wilkinson was 21 she was injured in an industrial accident and needed three years to recover and learn to walk again.
Having previously worked in a supermarket, she had to rethink her career and moved into the care sector, going on to notch up a decade with Mears Group.
Sara, 48, said: “After I completed my recovery, I needed to find something new to do as I couldn’t go back to my previous role.
“I took on a variety of youth work roles, including with the Prince’s Trust.
“There was a natural progression to supporting adults with learning difficulties, and 10 years ago I started at Mears as service manager, a role I still do to this day.”
Mears Group operates Mears Care in Aberdeenshire, providing care for adults with physical and mental disabilities and mental health issues. It provides carers 24 hours a day, supporting people to live in their own homes.
Sara said: “What is key for me is ensuring the people we support have the best quality of life possible and to ensure we put the right support in place at the right time.
“One example of this was one of our supported people who desperately wanted to go on holiday on a plane, but struggled using public transport.
“We worked with him to build up his confidence, first with the bus and then the train.
“I was in the office one day and I got a phone call from him from Brighton where he had managed to fly for the weekend, the absolute joy in his voice was amazing.
“That is what my role is about, making sure our service users can enjoy their lives and accomplish their goals.”
Mears is currently looking for 19 staff and Sara said the sector-wide staffing crisis is down to a number of factors.
“Our sector can be undervalued by society. Which is sad as it provides a vital service which has a huge impact on people’s lives,” she said.
Sara, who was Mears Group’s Manager of the Year in 2017, said that to work in care “you need to be a people person” who is “good at listening, compassionate, patient and creative”, although she did highlight some surprising transferrable skills.
“Being able to paint nails or play the PlayStation are just two skills which are valuable for supporting our service users. Much of the role is about access, wonderful activities, and doing creative things.”
A qualification in health and social care is helpful but not essential as SVQ progression and other training is provided.
Sara added: “Most of all, carers need the ability to treat supported people with dignity and respect and have a genuine interest in supporting people to lead a meaningful life.”