As quality assessor for a clothing manufacturer, Judith Lawson had to be organised, maintain impeccable standards and develop a keen eye for detail. 

While these might not sound like the most obvious traits for someone pursuing a career in social care, Judith’s transferrable skills have undoubtedly helped her to excel since joining the North East Autism Society almost four years ago. 

Judith, from Bowburn, County Durham, took up a role at the Society’s Adult Short Breaks provision, based at New Warlands Farm, in October 2017.

Having been made redundant from her job after 26 years, she decided it was the perfect time to try something new – and a friend, who works in adult residential care with NEAS, suggested she apply for a role with the charity.

“I used to think I was too old to change careers,” Judith says. “I didn’t come into this role until I was in my 50s, but I am so glad I took the leap and made such a big change.

“Now I can’t imagine myself doing anything else." 

Despite having no prior experience of working with autistic or neurodivergent adults, Judith hit the ground running and has already progressed from the role of Care Support Worker to Team Leader (maternity cover) for two of the lodges.

“I was aware of autism prior to applying for the role, but I came in fresh in terms of practical experience,” Judith says.

All of the support, training and information is there for new starters though, and there is always someone at the end of the phone if you need help. 

“The managers here are fantastic and everyone I have come across since starting at NEAS has been 100 per cent supportive.”

New Warlands Farm has a total of six residential lodges which can accommodate adults aged 17 upwards for as little as one night, or for an extended ‘short break’.

The Short Breaks provision offers a life-line service for autistic adults, as well as their families, and provides them with the opportunity to take part in a range of different activities, develop independence and friendships outside of the family unit.

And it’s the chance to make a positive difference to the lives of those adults that Judith loves most about her new career.

My favourite part of the job is supporting the adults and helping them to have the best day they can possibly have. When you see the adults smiling and laughing, it’s so rewarding.

She adds: “For some of them, this is their annual holiday, so it’s lovely to be able to get out in the community with them and give them the best day possible.”

While she hasn’t looked back since joining the Society, Judith openly admits she felt “terrified” on her first day. However she credits her line manager with putting her mind at ease and urging her to give herself time to settle in.

“New Warlands Farm is a beautiful working environment, it’s so peaceful and quiet,” she adds.

“Some days I don’t even feel like I’m at work – it’s totally different to sitting in an office all day. I don’t think I’d ever want to go back to a normal 9 to 5 day now.”

As well as her extensive experience as a quality manager, Judith has also spent more than two decades volunteering as a call handler for the Samaritans, taking phone calls from people in distress or suffering with their mental health.

And the 55-year-old says this experience has also helped her immensely when it comes to liaising with the families of the adults she supports at the lodges and building trusting relationships.

Asked what advice she’d give anyone who might be thinking of applying for a job with NEAS, Judith urges people to “have some confidence” in their own skills and abilities – no matter whether they’ve worked in social care before.

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