Making the leap from beauty therapist to care support worker may not seem an obvious move, but for Ashley Burn, there are similarities.

In her previous job, Ash spent her time making people feel good about themselves – but it wasn’t enough. She wanted not only to feel that she had achieved something, but to achieve so much more.

Her then-boyfriend worked casual shifts for the North East Autism Society, and the more Ash grew disillusioned with her own job, the more she became interested in his.

She thought, “I could do that,” and when she saw an advert for Care Support staff with NEAS, she decided to apply.

I wanted more of a challenge than I was getting in my current job, so I thought I’d try casual shifts,” says Ash. But when I got to the interview, I found myself saying that I was interested in a full-time position because I thought, if I’m going to do this, I want to give 100%.

In January 2021, Ash will have been working for the society for three years, and has quickly progressed to Assistant Manager.

After the first year, I decided to apply for the Team Leader’s role – and got it,” she explains proudly. “And my manager has recently gone on maternity leave, so I have taken on the role of Assistant Manager.

It’s quite a progression in just three years, but Ash acknowledges the help that she has received from NEAS.

My managers are all lovely. I’ve had full support with my training and they’ve helped me every step of the way. I have moved up the ladder quite quickly, and it makes me feel good to know that they have faith in me.

Ash works in the respite lodges which have been built at New Warlands Farm, the NEAS centre on the outskirts of Durham. The six spacious lodges, designed with autistic people in mind, offer residential short breaks for adults, and, by extension, their families.

Before Covid-19, each lodge could accommodate up to three visitors, but for the moment, just one individual can stay, along with their support worker.

"We work on a one-to-one basis,” explains Ash. “We are helping to develop their life-skills in preparation for independent living.

It can start with something as simple as wiping the table after a meal, and if someone couldn’t do that before, it’s great for them to see that there are jobs that they can join in with.

It’s like a home from home, and we do everything together – cooking, eating, housework. There are also other activities like painting, doing jigsaws, and Lego therapy. We will arrange anything that they like doing. 

Before Covid, there were also trips to the cinema, bowling, meals out and visits to the pub, as well as long walks, trips to the beach, and picnics.

Ash works a varying shift pattern that sometimes involves staying overnight in the lodges. Everyone has their own bedrooms, and there’s a dedicated staff room.

All our visitors live at home, and depend on their parents, but we are preparing for some of them to be able, one day, to live independently, or in supported housing, either alone or sharing. They will take with them the skills that they’ve learned here.

It’s sad for us to see them go, but it’s good for them,” she adds. “It’s like a proud mam moment, to see somebody who couldn’t make themselves a drink, actually getting to the stage of making that drink, and you know you’ve helped make their life better. It’s lovely.

She may not be a beauty therapist now, but Ash is certainly making people feel better, and giving them confidence in themselves.

Working at the farm is like a holiday every day. The feel of the place is just lovely. I just wish I’d made the move a lot earlier.

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