Pioneering Wrexham Council dementia expert wins award

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A COUNCIL worker who introduced a pioneering training programme to help care home staff transform the lives of people living with dementia has won a silver award.

Beverley Larkins, who is a staff development and training officer at Wrexham County Borough Council, has played a pivotal role in equipping care homes with the skills and knowledge to better understand and support residents’ and ultimately give them a better quality of life.

Beverley devised a “top down approach” to successfully implement the university programme, which meant getting the managers to buy into the course and help bring about the necessary change in culture.

Beverley Larkins

Care home staff now have more knowledge of the different types of dementia and are better placed to support residents when they become frustrated or agitated.

This resulted in Beverley being nominated for the Excellence in Dementia Care award in the Wales Care Awards sponsored by Ontex Healthcare and Barchester Jobs, held at City Hall in Cardiff.

The prestigious national awards, run by Care Forum Wales and dubbed the “Oscars” of the social care sector, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the sector.

The mum-of-one said: “It was a massive surprise when I found out because I’m just doing what I love to do.

“I enjoy my job – I enjoy every minute of what I do. But of course I’m delighted to have been nominated.”

Beverley, who started working for the local authority in 2001 and has been in her current role for four years, is particularly passionate about the work she does with dementia having had a relative battle with the disease.

She said: “I support both in-house staff and the private and voluntary sector in adult social care.

“We look to meet their development needs and make sure they have the necessary knowledge and skills.

“I lead on other areas – health and safety and safeguarding. I need leaders and managers to be committed in order to drive change and development. I also get involved in legislative changes.”

Beverley added: “A member of staff left in 2015 and a role came up to lead on dementia so I volunteered both for personal and development reasons.

“I was keen to get an understanding of that area. Not just on how it affects the individual but also the family.

“We’ve got a long way to go in the community and also the care sector – we’re all learning more and more about  dementia and how best to support people living with it.

“I threw myself into the new role and during a training course met an inspirational lady from Stirling University.

“We had a brilliant chat about the university’s Best Practice in Dementia Care programme and I thought it was a great opportunity to look at trying to implement it in Wrexham.

“Although our dementia training course is very good, as with any course you can be enthusiastic on the day but it does not often lead to the necessary change in practice and culture.

“You need a programme running for a length of time and one that people work on.

“The Stirling University programme isn’t too academic, it doesn’t have to be, and the aim is to start from the top down.

“Managers from local care homes were invited to attend a two engagement event to inform them about the course with the idea of giving them some skills and knowledge and getting a commitment for the next phase.

“The managers were then asked to nominate a staff member from their home to be a facilitator and complete an accredited programme, we had ten in total The programme was funded by the Social Care Wales grant which is secured by Wrexham County Borough Council to support the social care sector on an annual basis.

“They all received a certificate and then went back and trained eight members of staff over a six month period. Most have completed it and I know seven are starting to train more staff.

“I wanted to support the facilitators so I chaired a support group where they could discuss any difficulties, what worked well, what didn’t and to get advice. The aim was to motivate and encourage.

“It’s been a pleasure working with them. They and the rest of the staff have done the hard work.

“I hope in the not so distant future we get more facilitators trained up. The feedback from managers has been brilliant.”

Ultimately the positive impact the changes have had on the lives of residents is the most important factor and pleases Beverley the most.

She said: “One example that comes to mind is a situation we had with two men who have young-onset dementia. They had become quite frustrated in their environment.

“By talking to them and finding out more about their interests, staff discovered their enjoyment of music. One staff member had a husband who was in a band so she brought them in one weekend and encouraged the men to engage with them and the instruments.

“The difference in them has been quite amazing. It has given them an interest and ultimately a better quality of life.

“The programme has helped staff recognise that people with dementia get very frustrated because they often can’t communicate what they want or how they feel.

“Our staff can recognise when they are getting agitated, and to be tolerant and patient. We encourage individuals and family members to engage with the past – bring in photographs to reminisce so they can talk about old stories. It creates nice memories for everyone.”

In nominating Beverley for the Excellence in Catering Award, sponsored by Cardiff & Vale College, trainer assessor Tracey Evans commented: “Dementia is very close to Bev’s heart and she is very passionate.

“Bev is passionate that individuals with dementia are not seen as people with dementia but individuals firstly.

“Bev is very supportive of staff to ensure they have the right support to get the care right.

“She embeds the code of professional practice into her training and ensures everyone has an understanding of their responsibilities to implement these as part of their duty of care.

“Bev is a member of the Dementia Friendly Communities Group for Wrexham and has completed numerous events to date to raise awareness and money for the group.

“The group is working with Jo Lane from the Alzheimer’s Society to engage other businesses and organisations to improve the support of those living with dementia in the town.”

Mario Kreft, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

“We take our hats off to them.”

The MC for the awards evening was opera singer Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the well-known television adverts for Go Compare.