For Cathrine Brannigan, the strong relationships she has developed with the autistic children she supports outweigh the perks that any other career path could offer.

The 29-year-old, from Sunderland, worked at a call centre for eight years before finally deciding to follow her ambitions of working in the health and social care sector in September 2019.

“One day I thought, ‘I just don’t want to be here anymore’,” she says. “It was a great job, but I was just craving something different."

Cathrine got her wish and went from working as a manager at the call centre, to landing a role as a support worker at the North East Autism Society’s Wallingford children’s residential care provision.

And, after almost two years with NEAS, Cathrine says she now can’t see herself doing anything else.

Even if I’ve had a really bad day or a really long day, I go into work and see how happy the kids are to see me and it doesn’t matter anymore. You just don’t get that anywhere else. Everyone at Wallingford feels like my own family.

Despite having never worked in social care before joining the Society, Cathrine says her colleagues were a huge source of support and helped her settle into the role quickly.

“All companies will tell you that everyone works together, but in a children’s residential home, everyone really does have to work together for the whole place to run smoothly,” she explains.

“The staff at Wallingford were fantastic when I first started. They were willing to answer any questions I had and they didn’t hide any of the realities of the job from me.”

Registered manager Deborah Fleetham says it was Cathrine’s “confidence, personality and resilience” that made her a perfect fit for the role and says she hit the ground running when it came to building trust between herself and the children at Wallingford.

“For me Cat is one of those rare people whose confidence, personality and resilience is a huge strength, and that is not always something that can be nurtured or learned,” she says.

Cathrine was determined from the minute she walked through the door to put in the hard work required to build trusting but fun relationships with the children. She goes the extra mile for the children, who adore her, and her passion for the job is priceless.

For anyone considering applying for a role within the Society, Cathrine says they shouldn’t doubt their abilities, regardless of whether they have prior knowledge or experience of autism.

“I’d tell anyone who’s thinking of applying to have a little bit of confidence in themselves,” she says. “I knew of autism before I applied, but it really comes down to getting to know the children and building those relationships. 

“Plus the training NEAS provides, including the induction, gives you everything you need.” 

Cathrine is also currently leading a fundraising campaign to send three children from Wallingford to Disneyland Paris next year. As well as lobbying local businesses to donate raffle prizes, she has organised a charity night and roped her colleagues in to several sponsored walks.

“I just hope we get there,” Cathrine adds. “All of the staff and families have got behind the fundraising effort and it’s kind of just snowballed.

“We’ve still got to raise some more money, but I don’t see why it won’t be able to happen.” 

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