Three members of a Kent family are celebrating milestone work anniversaries this year, after all finding their place at Hft. When Alex Whitewood started working at an Hft service in 2010, his sister Charlotte Law and mum Kim Whitewood soon followed in his footsteps. They’ve each since spent the last decade supporting people with learning disabilities to live the best life possible.
Alex, 34, works at a supported living service and recently took on the extra responsibility of becoming a senior support worker. He supports four people to live in their own homes, three of whom he has supported since he started at Hft. Kim, 52, is a support worker at another supported living service in Kent where she supports 19 people with learning disabilities. Charlotte, 35, works at a residential service in Kent where she supports four people with autism. She’s also celebrating a decade of support work at Hft this December.
Meet the family and find out more about their time at Hft…
What inspired you to become a support worker?
Alex: I’d been working for a welding company since I left school and had been there for seven years when I started feeling like it was time for a change. I was looking for work that wasn’t manual, office-based or retail as I don’t like being stuck inside – I was hoping to find a job that was completely different, something that changed every day. I had some friends who worked at Hft, as well as my sister, so I applied!
Kim: Before working at Hft I was an accountant for nearly a decade. Working on my own in an office all day was really high-pressure and I decided to leave my job and take some time out. Five months into my time off, Alex suggested I apply for a part time vacancy open at the Hft service where he worked. I was initially reluctant as I’d never done this kind of work before but Alex was thoroughly enjoying it, so I went for it and was offered a full time position within a couple of months!
Charlotte: I first heard about support work through my brother who had just started work at Hft. He explained how relief support worker roles worked, as I wanted to continue my role as a pharmacy delivery driver too. I applied and was successful and worked as a relief support worker for four years, after which I applied for a permanent position at Hft. I was delighted to be made a senior support worker in February this year!
What’s your favourite thing about being a support worker?
Alex: My favourite thing about my job is supporting people to enjoy their lives, and thinking outside of the box to find new ideas to empower them to do more and make progress in their lives.
Kim: Becoming a support worker has been an absolutely great career move – it’s the best thing I could have done! Every day is different and I love the challenges. It’s so rewarding when you help make the lives of the people we support better.
Charlotte: It’s really rewarding to be able to explore and go on adventures with people I support, especially the gentleman I key work with. We’ve had successful day trips to London where we’ve even used the tube, which was something he never thought he’d try. We’ve also been on a flight together which was another success.
What’s it like working at the same place as your family?
Alex: You would think we’d bump into each other all the time, but due to shift patterns and us all working on different activities, we don’t see each other that much at work. When we do, it’s a quick wave through the window or a hello when passing on the driveway! Luckily we often have the same weekends off so we can have family catch-ups then.
Kim: It can feel a bit strange to have both my children working with me! I’ve never done a full shift with my son Alex, but in the early years, when my daughter Charlie was also working at the same service as me, we did occasional shifts together.
What do you think makes your family members brilliant support workers?
Alex: Both my mum and my sister work well at Hft because of the effort they put into the support they provide. My mum has just arranged a weekly sports day for the people she supports, to ensure they get out and about and stay active while still in partial lockdown. She’s also recently taken two trikes that she found home for my dad to fix and restore so people at the service can use them.
What would you say to someone thinking of becoming a support worker?
Kim: I would recommend this job in a heartbeat! All the staff I work with have different attributes that they bring to the team, creating a rich and varied support network. Something we all have in common though, is compassion and a caring nature. In a nutshell, support work is the best thing since sliced bread!
Charlotte: Being a support worker is all about understanding the person you’re supporting and getting to know them and what they need. It’s about feeling great when you know you’ve helped them achieve a goal, go on a day trip or just generally enjoy their day.
Wendy Hawkins, Operations Manager at Hft, said:
“Kim should be a very proud mum – her children definitely follow in their mum’s footsteps! Alex is not just a senior support worker, but always goes above and beyond. He’s always prepared to go the extra mile – nothing is too much trouble for him and he’s a great problem solver. We also appreciate the odd jobs he does around the site, and the indoor and outdoor displays he makes at Halloween and Christmas!
“Like her brother, nothing is too much trouble for Charlie. She recently supported someone to go on a ferry to France, which was a tremendous achievement. Even when her handbag was accidentally thrown overboard, she wasn’t fazed! Kim is as full of life as her children and a major advocate for people she supports – she won’t stop until she’s done the most she can do for them. I’m so proud to have such an accomplished family working at our service.”