Mitesh Dhanak, Founder and Chairman at Precious Homes and member of the Organising Committee for Championing Social Care, reflects on the creativity, passion, and commitment of the social care sector during lockdown.
Since I first founded Precious Homes just over 25 years ago, I’ve been truly humbled by the passion and dedication of the people who work in this sector. This year, however, the added pressure of the pandemic has really highlighted the crucial importance of the sector and the challenges it faces. We urgently need to put social care in the spotlight to create dialogue and positive change both for those who work in social care and for those who rely on it.
My lightbulb moment: Privileged to care
My first foray into the social care sector stemmed from an initial interest in property development. After buying and renovating a couple of residential properties, I was invited by an acquaintance to attend the opening of a local care home. It was then that I realised that I could combine my interest in developing high-quality accommodation with a personal desire to make a positive difference in the lives of others. It was a lightbulb moment for me and one which made me change direction and focus my energies on creating high-quality bespoke environments for adults with autism and complex needs.
For me, the highlights of working in this sector are when the people we support have a breakthrough. It can be anything from being able to make a cup of tea independently (something the rest of us take for granted) to moving to live in the community independently. Each one of these is a life-changing difference for our service users in terms of their confidence and wellbeing. We now have 40 services around the country and I feel incredibly proud and privileged to be able to support so many individuals to achieve their goals.
My motivations aside, I continue to be inspired by my team on a daily basis. They champion the needs of the people we support with a passion and unwavering dedication that is admirable. They empower the people they support and they help them to achieve their goals, both big and small, in a way that not everyone can. However, while they are busy advocating for the people they support, we need to advocate for them. Being on the frontline of social care can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely challenging.
Rising to the challenge of lockdown
At no time have these challenges been more apparent than during the COVID lockdown this year. We primarily support people with autism and learning disabilities, some of whom have very complex needs and behaviour which could be described as challenging. For all of us, especially those in social care settings around the UK, being away from family during lockdown was tough. More than tough. For the people we support, many of whom thrive on routine, it has been especially difficult, with changes and uncertainties exacerbating anxieties exponentially. In fact, research from the National Autistic Society found that Autistic people in June and July were six times more likely to have low life satisfaction and seven times more likely to be chronically lonely compared to the general public. It also found that nine out of 10 autistic people worried about their mental health during lockdown. The disruption, uncertainty and change of pace triggered huge levels of anxiety. Our amazing teams took this in their stride, supporting people through it with commitment and amazing creativity that never ceased to amaze me.
Creativity and dedication
We had team members who opted to create a bubble with the people that they support, moving into the services and staying away from family, friends and their usual social circles. We had people who voluntarily travelled across the country to deliver food and PPE supplies to colleagues, or to cover shifts where others had to isolate. But, more than anything, we had an abundance of creativity. One of our services had a theme week each week with some amazing results, taking people from the Caribbean to Mexico without leaving their garden. Another turned their outdoor space into a beach, complete with beach huts, deck chairs and a fish and chip delivery from their local takeaway. Others introduced yoga, mindfulness classes and a range of sensory walks. We also had enough arts and crafts going on to open several galleries and a keen interest in gardening which would put Kew Gardens to shame!
All of this creativity – all of the extra work that went on to keep the people we support entertained, connected and to try to reduce anxiety and manage escalated behaviours – all of it was done on top of staying COVID safe. From maintaining cleaning regimes and PPE supplies to having to explain the situation to people who often struggled with a lack of understanding, a lack of routine and an increase in uncertainty. It was far from easy. Yet they did it, and they did it fabulously. With passion, compassion, respect and dignity far beyond the call of duty.
My team has undoubtedly shown me that it takes tremendous skill, knowledge and a special kind of person to fulfil the demands of the support worker role. It is a job that deserves to be applauded, recognised and celebrated. By supporting Championing Social Care, I hope to help shine a light on some of the amazing work across our sector. The Care Sector Ball, Care Home Open Day and Care Sector’s Got Talent event all provide plenty of opportunities to get involved and support fundraising initiatives, all of which will put the care sector – and the people who live and work in it – in the spotlight. Where it absolutely deserves to be.