Story 90

Empathy and understanding

It was early summer 1988 when I first started at Leonard Cheshire. I’d just left college, and I was looking forward to starting a job at a new Leonard Cheshire service, Three Forests (now Alder House).

I was one of the first staff members. When I joined up, we were getting things ready for 15 people who wanted to move in. I couldn’t wait to get started!

Being 20 years old at the time, I was really happy to be working with quite a few young people. It was great fun, and it was always good to know that the people living there could get the support they needed and do what they wanted to do.

In the early days, we met Leonard Cheshire himself. At first, it felt like we were meeting royalty. But he put everyone at ease straight away. He seemed like a very good man. Meeting him, it made sense that he had set up a charity to support others. I’m very proud to have worked for his organisation.

We went swimming, sightseeing and did loads of different things over the years. I remember a brilliant day out at The Royal Tournament, and great days playing crazy golf and wheelchair basketball. I got on well with everyone, especially Sarah Whately-Harris — a resident who is still there now. I saw her recently and it was lovely to catch up with her again.

Manual wheelchairs did seem to be a bit less reliable in those days, but thankfully when something happened it turned out to be quite funny. I can still remember one of my first training sessions. The manager was pushing me in a wheelchair and going down to the pub. Somehow, my chair got stuck crossing the road — so I had to get out and walk across the road. The motorists were very confused but everyone at the service thought it was hilarious!

After hearing me talk about it so much, my husband Andrew came to Three Forests and got a job in the kitchen. My sister Penny also joined up, working as a support worker while she was at university. I remember on her first shift, she was in the room when a guy called Keith was transferring out of his wheelchair, and a wheel unexpectedly came off. Keith was unfazed and soon afterwards quipped to me: ‘I think I’ve fallen for your sister!’

I’ve been working for 29 years, supporting disabled and older people. My time at Leonard Cheshire showed me how to provide good support for each individual. It gave me more empathy and understanding. The staff were very supportive and I’m still in touch with some of them. I just loved working with the people living there. They were a great bunch.

My time at Leonard Cheshire showed me how to provide good support for each individual. It gave me more empathy and understanding.