CLARE Rowe worked at the Wilko store in Sunderland for 26 years, and thought she would be there for the rest of her working life.

But she had always dreamed of being a nurse or caring for people, while a friend who worked at the North East Autism Society told her she would love working there.

It took the upheaval of the Covid-19 pandemic to give Clare the push to finally realise her ambition.

“Wilko sent 11 people including me to work in their distribution centre in Nottingham to help out, and we stayed in a hotel for 12 weeks,” Clare explains. “It made me think, ‘I can do anything now’.

When I told my friend I might leave Wilko, she said, ‘I told you years ago you’d enjoy NEAS!’ So that was it – I applied online and, because I was impatient, I phoned too.

Clare, 51, is now a care support assistant at Wallingford in Sunderland, looking after a young man called Bradley in Independent Supported Living.

She helps him get ready in the morning and do household chores, and takes him out on trips to go swimming, trampolining, walking, playing football, dancing, or to the cinema.

“It’s not like I expected because I thought I’d be in a big care home. You don’t realise it will be a normal house on a normal street,” Clare says.

It feels like a home - you make it a home. And that’s very rewarding. It’s nice to care for somebody, get them out and about and living their best life.

Even though Clare had no experience of care work, autism or neurodiversity before joining NEAS, her decades of experience dealing with people, problem-solving and working in a team have stood her in good stead.

She had a week-long induction when she joined the Society, including autism and neurodiversity training, first aid and safeguarding. Further training and mentoring have supported her in the role.

While the job can be challenging at times, Clare is glad she made the change. “Sometimes I wish I’d left Wilko sooner, but maybe it was just my time.

“My friend was finally proved right, I do love working here. She’ll be pleased about that!”

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