Nina O’Brien joined Crossroads as a Carer Support Worker in December 2019. Having recently returned to the Surrey area, she aspired to find new challenge where she could use her skills as an occupational therapist working within the NHS to help people in a different way.

Within just a few short months, Coronavirus (Covid-19) arrived in the UK, having an unprecedented impact across the world. The virus has left no one un-touched and the full extent on the UK economy is yet to be known.

We met up with Nina last week to find out more about how she’s settled in and feeling about helping carers and their loved ones in the current climate.

It seems a such a long time ago now you joined us Nina, can you tell us a little bit about your first few weeks at Crossroads?

From the outset, the team were incredibly friendly and my initial training, support during my probation period and further learning opportunities have been excellent. My team leader is clear with communications and was able to give me shadowing opportunities to build my confidence meeting new cared for clients. Additionally, I was given time to familiarise myself with policy and procedures. There is always someone to support me at the other end of the phone, I have never been made to feel silly asking for help.

The work is incredibly varied and interesting. I am supporting people of all ages who require support with various care needs. My team leader has a great understanding of the care needs of all her clients, meaning she is able to match my skills to help people with not just their physical care needs but to be there holistically, making the few short hours enjoyable, interesting and enriching for those being cared for. Additionally, the enjoyment I get from supporting people through caring to live life well is incredibly rewarding with the added bonus of giving peace of mind for the carer that their loved one is in safe hands, meaning they can have some all-important time away.

Tell us a little about the people you care for?

One of my first experiences saw me caring for two young children, one with care needs to support their grandmother with some much-needed respite. Over the first few weeks, we visited many sites including the local community leisure centre and park. We played indoor games or games in the garden. It was rewarding and challenging to build a rapport with the children. Although, I have children myself, it was my first time looking after a child with additional needs. I feel a sense of achievement having been promoted from ‘new lady’ to ‘Nina’. Over time, the child I care for is seemingly more willing to compromise which is often challenging for him to do if he has his mind set on something. His grandmother has fed back he seems to have ‘taken’ to me, which is an honour and privilege.

I also visit a client who suffers with social anxiety. I support him with light domestic chores, making lunch and shopping. His previous carer had been with him for many years and they shared a love of football. This is a topic I know little about, but I managed to find some common ground based on music. My client enjoys educating me, sharing his knowledge of music style and history which I enjoy very much.

I visited a client to do a cover not long after I joined Crossroads. I was there to support an older man with memory loss so his wife who suffers with an underlying medical condition could get some respite. We hit it off immediately, sharing our mutual love of Hampton Court Palace. He explained how frustrated he was at the prospect of losing his short-term memory, whilst retaining events long gone by in minute detail. He made me coffee. Later I learned from his wife, he never makes coffee. A few weeks later, the opportunity arose to go back to the client permanently.

How did you feel after just a few short months in with Coronavirus impacting your ability to care face-to-face in people’s homes?

I was really upset at the prospect of not being able to get to see my clients every week. I know how much they value my help and what it means to them. I love getting to know people, growing a friendship over time; and just knowing just how I make a difference. It was just awful to feel I was letting clients down by not being able to care during this time.

How did you feel about helping in a practical way with shopping?

It felt good to be of use helping people in my area with outreach support services who were vulnerable or at-risk because of age or ill-health. For many carers, doing practical chores like shopping was logistically impossible when you’re caring round-the-clock for someone shielding. In fact, most carers needed to self-isolate to keep those shielding safe, meaning, just simply being able to feed your family or get essential medication then becomes a stress. With my help shopping, families could focus on caring with less worry and stress knowing we were helping in this practical way to support them to get through a difficult time.

How did people react to your support through shopping?

Everyone I helped with shopping or prescription collections were extremely grateful for the additional help. Some people shared personal experiences about how the shopping has made a difference, taking away the additional worry of where the next meal or their essential medicine was coming from.

How did you feel about returning to care?

I was very excited to return to care in people’s homes once more. If, for any reason I thought my clients were at risk, I would not go. I have been given information in line with government guidelines to carry out care safely, including support to manage infection control and given the appropriate personal protection equipment (PPE) to continue to work safely on a face-to-face basis. It is important that those being cared for, carers and care providers all feel safe. Sometimes, clients don’t like me wearing a mask, but once I explain how the mask protect them as well as me, they are accepting.

What is the best aspect of your role as a Carer Support Worker?

Being able to enable people to maintain as much independence as possible to ensure quality and enjoyment of life. In my previous role in the NHS, time restraints meant I could advise my clients, but not support or act. My role caring with Crossroads has enabled me to feel I am making a difference, giving me purpose and job satisfaction. Generally, the people I work with are pleased to see me, which was not always the case in previous work roles!

It’s been a busy time, especially during Covid-19. How do you relax after a long day caring?

I have a Chilhuahua who has just turned one! He’s a bundle of energy and loves long walks in Nonsuch Park with my two daughters and my son when I can drag them away from their digital world. Lockdown has given me the chance to catch up with my friends on the phone or virtually through Zoom, so I have gained some new computer skills, becoming more digital which is a bonus. I’ve re-visited scrapbooking, crafting and reading.