For Alan Cowell, you could perhaps say he was joining the family business when he began working for the North East Autism Society, following in the footsteps of his wife and daughter who are also employed by NEAS.

With no prior experience of working with autistic adults - having previously worked for a manufacturing company making car seats for Nissan – Alan was encouraged to apply by his family who shared their own knowledge and experiences with him.

“I did have a little understanding around autism,” Alan says. “But my daughter and wife taught me a lot prior to starting and informed me how good NEAS are to work for.”

Alan joined the team at one of the Society’s adult residential care provisions in June 2019, working as a care support assistant, and says he instantly felt supported by both his colleagues and management. 

And while he was able to turn to his family for advice after making the career change, the 53-year-old, from Sunderland, says he also benefitted hugely from NEAS’s intensive five-day induction programme.

“From my very first day, I was given a lot of support and guidance from my management and staff team,” Alan explains.

“The induction and training programme was also very helpful, and I learned a lot from this. We have a very good training platform across the organisation which helps all staff to provide the highest standard of care to the adults we support.”

Despite having been with the Society for less than two years, Alan has quickly become an integral part of the team at Ashton, explains registered manager Jill Clark-Elgar.

“Alan came to us with very little experience; however, he has strived to listen, learn from his mentor and his dedication to our service is outstanding,” Jill says. “He is hardworking and strives to reach the full potential of our service users.”

Alan says the most rewarding part of his role is helping the adults at Ashton to “achieve their goals in life” and, according to Jill, his creativity is boundless when it comes to thinking of new ways to engage and enhance the lives of the adults he works alongside.

“The best day for me is every day,” he says. “I love my job and I have a good relationship with the adults I support and their families.

“I support one service user with woodwork within the home and recently built him a bird box. He likes to take it apart, with support from me, and whilst doing this he shows lots of positive indicators of wellbeing. I also built him a fidget board which he really enjoys, and I’ve even built one for the service my daughter manages.

“More recently I built a greenhouse at Ashton and like to get the adults involved in this.”

To anyone who may be considering applying for a role with the Society, Alan’s advice would be to “go for it” and not to be put off if they don’t have a background in social care.

“Definitely go for it as it is so rewarding,” Alan adds. “If you haven't done this job before the Society provide all the support you need, so don't let that put you off.”

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