When Angela got married last year, the most important guest was her autistic 11-year-old son Kelvin .. and not far behind was his care support worker, Hilary Collins.

Without Hilary and a colleague there, Kelvin might not have been able to sit through the ceremony at Bowburn Hall in County Durham or get photographs taken with the rest of the family. 

That’s how important she is to Kelvin and Angela’s life, and how close a bond she has with the family.

“It’s a very rewarding job and I get a lot of satisfaction out of it,” says Hilary, 53, who works at Braemar Gardens residential home in Sunderland where Kelvin lives. "You get to know the young person really well and gain their trust.

Relationships with the family are really important too. Kelvin’s family were so happy that he got to the wedding. It was a huge milestone for him.

Hilary started working for the North East Autism Society at Thornhill, 19 years ago. She has seen the way the Society cares for children and young people develop from large buildings to the small family-style homes that are the hallmark of NEAS now.

From Thornhill, she helped launch the first such family-friendly home in Brentwood in Sunderland, and since then has seen generations of children grow up in Belford, Meldan, Wallingford and now Braemar.

“It’s a real home from home. We sit together, have our meals together, plan outings, and have families over for tea, special events and parties,” she says.

I think it makes the children more relaxed and the families are happy to see them being looked after in this environment.

Three boys aged 10-17 live at Braemar, and staff support them in all aspects of their daily lives, from getting ready for school to preparing their meals and taking them on outings and appointments.

Hilary says: “It’s the little things, like taking Kelvin to the barbers to get his hair done, shopping for clothes, buying presents for his mother when she got married.”

She and a colleague even took Kelvin on his first ever holiday last summer to stay in a caravan in Crimdon Dene, where he was thrilled to spot seals and go rock-pooling at the beach. “That was another big achievement for us – he absolutely loved it,” she says.

Hilary had no experiencing working in care or with children before she joined NEAS; instead, she had worked as a machinist for Dewhirst until she was made redundant. Since joining the Society, she has had extensive training and achieved her NVQ Level 3.

“That training is with you for life,” Hilary says. “I’ve also learned an enormous amount on the job.”

She has never regretted taking the leap into care work and would recommend it to others looking for a job or a career change. “I couldn’t go back to a Monday to Friday job – I see a lot more of my own family this way,” she says.

“And it’s great working with people who look after you. They give you lots of good advice and we all support each other on the way.”

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