In his mid-fifties, packaging Salesman, Stephen Craston, was left reeling. The company he had worked for for nearly 30 years had just made him redundant. He had been given no time to prepare and he struggled with feelings of loss and rejection. As his redundancy money began to run out, he was forced to think quickly about his next career move. Little did he know that over the next decade, he was going to change the lives of many…
Throughout the majority of his corporate career, dad-of-three, Stephen, from Hertfordshire, worked in sales and marketing positions within the same company.
He explains, “For 30 years, I worked for an international organisation where I was involved in various different fields, but predominantly under one heading: packaging. So you might say, by the time I’d spent 30 years in packaging, I got to a point where I was beginning to question whether I wanted to remain in that field for the rest of my working life. Then, the situation was somewhat taken out of my hands when I was made redundant rather suddenly. I wasn’t expecting it to be honest with you. Psychologically, I found it really quite difficult and I was not in a very good place mentally. A certain element of rejection was quite high in my psyche.”
“I was protected by the buffer of the redundancy payment, but there came a time when it ran out, and it became more urgent for me to have to do something radical about the situation”
As well as coming to terms with his loss, Stephen also had a decision to make about what he was going to do next and over the coming months, he tried to launch his own consultancy service.
He says, “I received quite a good redundancy package, so I was able to spend a bit of time looking around and deciding what I wanted to do. I got some support from clients and people I’ve worked with over the years, and initially, I tried to make something of being a Consultant. But it came with quite a lot of angst because it meant that I had to start from zero with a lot of my new leads, so it was having quite an impact on the family finances.
“I was initially protected by the buffer of the redundancy payment, but there came a time when it ran out and it became more urgent for me to have to do something radical about the situation.”
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Finding his new place in the world
When he became unemployed, Stephen also began doing some volunteering – organised by his local Church – which involved visiting vulnerable people who didn’t have much company in their own homes. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was this that would help him decide on his next career move…
He says, “After realising that consulting wasn’t going to work out, I began thinking constantly about what I really wanted to do with my life. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to work in a role where people would still be the focus, as I’m very much a people person – which is why I enjoyed the voluntary work so much.
“I spoke to my wife about the possibility of reinventing myself in the social care industry and looked locally for care agencies, to see whether anyone would allow me the opportunity to become a Carer.
“I got to know a local agency and they put me in touch with Home Instead – a care company who were inviting people with caring attributes to approach them. I thought to myself, ‘Well, let’s give it a whirl and see where it leads.’ That was ten years ago now…”
“...the care that we provide can hopefully help people stop counting the years and start living them…”
Stephen, now 65, says that what he loves most about his work is the difference that he is able to make to people’s lives. The former Salesman supports people of all ages who have mental and/or physical disabilities, with anything from washing and dressing, to helping them leave the house, through to listening and laughing with them.
He continues, “We have quite a nice little motto in our firm, which basically says that the care we provide can hopefully help people stop counting the years and actually live them, so that’s what we aim to do. I just want to give people something to smile about.
“I had one client who was my sort of age and he loved music from the 60s and 70s – especially rock – so once or twice a month I was paid to take him to concerts and make sure he got home okay. So that was great fun – definitely one of the more interesting care jobs I’ve been given!”
“I form really strong bonds with clients and their families. I used to care for a couple locally, who had three daughters. Within the last three years, the couple passed away, but their daughters still keep in touch with me now and want to see me at Christmas to find out how I’m getting on. I got to know them over a five to six-year period and during that time, some people naturally become your friends.”
“I work under a zero hours contract, so my firm gives me hours which suit me and I get paid on an hourly basis”
As well as the nature of his care role, Stephen is also grateful for the level of flexibility it has given him over the last ten years:
“I work under a zero hours contract, so my firm gives me hours which suit me and I get paid on an hourly basis. I have the flexibility to tell my employer when I’m available, and they then offer me work where and when they can.
“I’ve been in the firm long enough now to be able to work an average working day of between nine and ten hours, and that work is there for me because I’ve got quite a few clients who have been under our care for quite a long time now and I’ve built relationships with them.
“Having said that, if a client goes on holiday or has to go into hospital, the firm is not obliged to fill those hours for you. So occasionally, you might find yourself going home and mowing the lawn! That’s the type of environment it is, but I’m glad to say that I’m pretty well occupied. I would find it very difficult now, at this time in my life, to go back onto a fixed hours contract. There would need to be a very big incentive.”
“I think I’m quite good at dealing with death, which I think is partly down to the spiritual side of my personality, but also life experience”
Although Stephen finds great reward in his care work, he says that there are aspects of it which can prove quite challenging. But he has become particularly good at dealing with difficult situations over the years and has even become a rock for other members of staff when things get tough.
He explains, “I suppose on the challenging side of things, is facing somebody who’s particularly distressed or upset and finding the right words and gestures to help. This happens quite a lot with dementia patients. But during our training, which is done annually, we’re given an intense, robust course which is designed to help us cope with most situations and prevent us from buckling under pressure because running away doesn’t help anyone.
“Things can change quite quickly in this line of work as well so you have to be quite adaptable. You can go to see a client as you usually do one morning, find them in a pretty bad way, and end up having to call 999.
“I quite literally lost a client once. That was a rather peculiar set of circumstances, quite early on during my time in care. I had to get the police involved to help find them, but things happen you know – that’s life. If people go walkabout, you just have to get on with it and go find them!”
“I also haven’t gone around counting them on both hands, but thinking about it now, people I’ve been caring for have passed away on a regular basis – probably one or two a year. It runs into double figures now. I think I’m quite good at dealing with death, which I think is partly down to the spiritual side of my personality, but also life experience. I lost my own parents when I was quite young, so I’ve had quite a bit of experience dealing with death.
“There’s been times in the past when I’ve not only been able to console the loved ones in the room after a client has passed away, but a fellow carer, who was most upset by the situation. I think my maturity of years has probably helped me. I’m 65 and I’m very much at the top end of the age range. I work with a lot of girls in their 20s and 30s and I like to think I can offer a bit of a fatherly figure to them.”
“Just last week, I was mentoring a man who was a former taxi driver and he seems to have a natural aptitude for the job. People come from all walks of life in the care industry and you may ask yourself, am I a bit of an oddity in this business? No I'm not”
Stephen says that during the ten years spent in the care industry, his corporate background has been no barrier to his professional and personal growth and development. And he’s had opportunities to meet new people of all ages and career backgrounds:
“There are natural attributes that you can’t really train, like being sociable, dependable, empathetic, calm under pressure, and so on. But I’ve received lots of training that has helped me to better manage situations at work.
“I’ve gained three lots of NVQs since I’ve been here and have also been promoted to Senior Care staff, which means on top of my everyday work, I occasionally go out and do appraisals with clients and I also mentor new staff.
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“Just last week, I was mentoring a man who was a former taxi driver and he seems to have a natural aptitude for care work.
“People come from all walks of life in the care industry and you may ask yourself, am I a bit of an oddity in this business? No I’m not. I’ve got two or three male colleagues, both of whom have come from corporate backgrounds.”
Looking forward to the future, Stephen says that for the first time in a long time, he is now able to see “a little bit of the road ahead” and has no intention of giving up his role anytime soon.
He says, “I have a good work-life balance, so I have no reason to give up, and Carers who come into this business should be able to achieve much the same as I have – providing that they aren’t coming into it with money being the sole reason for doing it. I do have colleagues who have two jobs and I accept that I’m lucky in that respect that I don’t have quite so much financial pressure.
“I still have time to spend with my family and I have quite a lot of interests. I’m heavily involved with charity fundraising and my local church, I’m nuts on sports and I love to be in the garden. I do everything bar being a governor in a school to be honest! But it all involves being around people.”
“I think I’ve found my place for the rest of my working life. To anyone else who hasn’t found that yet, I would say don’t give up. Go with your gut feeling; if you feel that it’s time for a change, then it probably is!”
At 65, retirement isn’t something that is currently on Stephen’s agenda and he hopes to continue making a difference for as long as he is able:
“I’m going to carry on with this work for as long as I’m able to. I perhaps won’t be working as many hours as I am now, but I’m quite happy to be useful while I can. One of the things that this job does is to help you focus on your own mortality and how you go about leading your daily life. You’re not much good to anybody if you’re lacking energy and feeling a bit down about things. You can’t go into people’s homes and start talking about your own ailments.
“I have no intention of going in search of any other careers now. I think I’ve found my place for the rest of my working life. To anyone else who hasn’t found that yet, I would say don’t give up. Go with your gut feeling; if you feel that it’s time for a change, then it probably is!”