Workaholic gran June overcomes family heartache to shine in social care Oscars

Care Awards nominee June Clarke at Plas y Garn Residential Home, Pontypool with resident Doreen Jackson

A Gwent grandmother who juggles the demands of family ill health while managing a care home is in the running for a social care Oscar.

Self-confessed workaholic June Clark, 60, has enjoyed a 35-year career in the care industry and admits no other job in the world would satisfy her more.

The grandmother-of-six, from Varteg, Pontypool, has managed the Plas y Garn Care Home in Penygarn, Pontypool, for the past five years.

Care Awards nominee June Clarke at Plas y Garn Residential Home, Pontypool with resident Doreen Jackson

In a career that spans more than 30 decades she hasn’t once taken off a day sick – despite being the sole carer of her husband, Neil, an insulin-dependent diabetic suffering with a serious bowel condition which leaves his body in a permanent state of infection.

The mother-of-three is now in line for a top gong after being nominated for the Excellence in Dementia Care and Outstanding Service awards in this year’s Wales Care Awards at City Hall in Cardiff on November 17.

The national awards, run by Care Forum Wales, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.

June, who has a daughter, Jodie, 36, and sons, Dean, 41, and Leighton, 43, will now attend a glittering awards ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff on November 17 which will be hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV adverts.

She said: “Giving makes me happy. I always feel embarrassed when somebody does anything for me as I always feel there’s somebody else more deserving.

“This time, though, I feel like I do deserve to be nominated and I’m so proud that someone has recognised who I am.

“This place is my castle and I can be who I am here. I’ve got another five or six years left in my career but I won’t be able to walk away. My life is about making sure people are happy.”

June, who was brought up in Blaenavon and attended Park Street Secondary Modern, started her career as a care assistant at Ty-Ceirios Nursing Home in Pontypool and moved to Plas y Garn Care Home in the late 1990s where she held almost all positions at the home before covering in senior management roles.

Sadly, however, tragedy struck when her mother, Jean, was diagnosed with terminal throat cancer. Her husband Neil, 61, a former builder, was also diagnosed with an ongoing gastrointestinal fistula as a complication of his diabetes around the same time and was forced to give up work. To date, he has undergone 34 bowel operations and requires ongoing medical treatment.

Torn between two hospitals where each of her loved-ones were being treated and working night shifts away from home, June was forced to leave her job at Plas y Garn and take on a more flexible role as an NVQ assessor inspecting homes from Cardiff to Brecon.

“I just wanted to do so much for everyone in my life and I couldn’t,” she said. I never do anything for me. I always put everyone else first and everybody knows that.

“I was able to fit in visiting times to both hospitals and still hold down my job.”

Sadly, June’s mum lost her battle with cancer aged 70. At around the same time, her husband’s condition improved and he grew stronger.

When June realised her former employer, Plas y Garn, was recruiting the manager’s position she couldn’t wait to apply and was appointed to the job.

Months into her new job, June was making sweeping changes to improve the residents’ lives including creating a 1950s lounge as a reminiscence room for those with dementia in which she sourced ornaments, pictures and décor from the era including a replica washing trolley and 1950s television hand-built by her husband.

She also designed and made memory boxes which hang on the wall outside the residents’ bedrooms.

“I run a pretty tight ship but we haven’t really lost many staff over the past five years as I think they are happy,” said June.

“I know the whole building inside and out as I’ve done most of the jobs. It’s like a little hotel.

“I don’t do it for me, I do it for the residents and the staff. We are a big family and if I’m not at work I’m out shopping for the home.

“People tell me I can’t keep this up but the moment I stop something will probably happen to me. I’m like a hamster on a wheel and can’t – or rather won’t – get off!

“A lot people don’t realise that I have the care responsibilities at home too. My work is my life and when I go home I don’t know what to expect as my husband’s health is up and down.

“I never really leave my job behind but I’ve also never even had a day off sick in all the years I’ve worked in care or a full week’s holiday.”

In June this year June won a coveted recognition award from Aspiration Training for mentorship skills and admitted a gong from the Wales Care Awards would be the “icing on the cake”.

Nominating June for her awards, Karen Healey, director of quality, learning and development at Hafod Care, which owns the home, said: “I have known June for three years and she has always shown great care and compassion, not only to those who receive services, but also their family, friends and advocates.

“June works relentlessly in her quest to achieve excellence in her work. She is extremely driven, hardworking and conscientious and has a very good relationship with everyone who she comes into contact with.”

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.

“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.”