A sculptor who changed career to carve out a key role improving the lives of people with learning disabilities and mental health needs has been shortlisted for a top award.
Arts graduate Alexander Smith downed his sculpting tools in favour of caring for society’s most vulnerable people at the Lifelong Learning 4 Living organisation at Llanerchrugog Hall, Rhos, near Wrexham.
His contribution has been invaluable enabling residents to undertake activities that many had never been allowed to do before, such as walking a pet dog, shopping, ironing, cooking, cleaning, having bus passes and even travelling abroad.
Alex had no ambition to work as a care giver on first graduating from Loughborough University.
But on taking up a temporary position helping teach lifestyle skills at Llanerchrugog Hall he developed a natural rapport with its residents and was soon fuelled by a desire to help them.
That was seven years ago and in the time since he joined the Lifelong Learning 4 Living team Alex has gone on to gain recognised diplomas in care, and achieve a post graduate certificate in applied psychology for adults with learning difficulties.
He is now assistant trainee manager and when not at work is studying for a master’s degree in psychology from Chester University.
His dedication and determination to speak out on behalf of care service users so impresses co-workers that his manager Peter Greenwood had no hesitation nominating him for an accolade at the prestigious 2015 Wales Care Awards.
Mr Greenwood said: “Alex has made a significant difference to the life experience of people with whom we work and therefore we have opted to propose him as a nominee for the excellence in Learning Disability Award.”
The awards are in association with Care Forum Wales, a not-for-profit organisation set up in 1993 to give independent care providers a single professional voice with which to speak on one of the most important issues of our time – how to provide better quality care for those who need it most.
This is the 13th anniversary of the awards and the winners will be announced at a glittering presentation ceremony, which Alex will be attending at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, November 6.
Originally from Hampshire, Alex now lives in Devonshire Place, Handbridge, Chester, with his girlfriend, midwife Rebecca Hardaker.
Though he still enjoys the arts, Alex has had no time to continue sculpting.
“I have been so busy at work and preparing the dissertation for my Masters, every minute is taken up. But it is worth it, I get so much satisfaction out of my job,” he said. “For me it’s about enablement, empowering people to regain some autonomy in their lives. For some of our residents just being able to achieve basic life skills which most people take for granted – teeth cleaning, ironing, cooking – can be so rewarding. It gives them back a sense of independence.”
Alex’s enthusiasm to help Llanerchrugog Hall residents was obvious from the early days.
Mr Greenwood said: “He showed empathy and respect towards the service uses, asking lots of questions and coming up with ideas. His first questions were: ‘Why do the service users only go out once a week to the Cunliffe Club?’ ‘Why can’t they help do the cooking?’ “Why aren’t they doing their own shopping?’
“Alex was right and was tasked with engaging service users to find out what they wanted in terms of lifestyle and to get them to think about doing things they had never done before or that they might have done in the past and would like to do again. Every single service user was interviewed and an activities programme developed with Alex as coordinator.”
Alex, 29, is also a strong advocate of improving the lot of care givers and is focusing his dissertation on the emotional wellbeing of care providers in residential centres and at home.
He believes to improve the life experience of people in care it is essential to raise the status, rewards and work conditions of carers. He would one day like to open a residential care facility himself.
“That would be my long term aim, but for now I am happy in my role at Llanerchrugog Hall. We have a good forward thinking team there and I feel honoured that my colleagues have nominated me for this award,” said Alex, who is also a tae kwon do black belt and plays guitar to de-stress.
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.
He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar and are seen as the Oscars of social care.
“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.
“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation -– these are the people who really do have the X Factor.
“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.
“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce -– they deserve to be lauded and applauded.
“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”