Kent woman celebrates 35 years supporting people with learning disabilities
A support worker from Kent has marked three and a half decades of supporting people with learning disabilities to live the best life possible.
Mary Jennens, 71, began working at national learning disability charity Hft, in November 1986, and 35 years later she continues to work at their supported living service, Seaview Manor in Hythe.
Mary, from Lympne said she feels a huge sense of achievement having reached such a career milestone as one of the longest serving support workers in the charity. She said, “It’s incredible to think that I’m still supporting some of the same people I met all those years ago on my very first day of work”.
Mary first took on her role at Hft on a part time basis, to supplement the income she earned working in a café. However, as she began to settle into her new job she realised that this was what she wanted to do full time. Mary said she enjoys how varied her role is, and how she forms bonds not just with the people she supports, but with their families also.
“We’ve been through a journey together,” she said. “I have built up great relationships with the people I support and their families. I’ve always been here to support them through anything that’s going on in their lives, and the families trust me to be there for their loved ones.”
Mary said that support work is not just about doing things for people, but supporting and encouraging them to do things for themselves. She loves to see people reach their full potential.
“I love to see people achieve things, even small goals”, she said, “like making a cup of tea or getting the bus on their own. I recently taught a young woman to make macaroni and cheese. At first I had to talk her through each step, now I stand back and watch her do the whole thing herself. It makes me feel very proud.”
Mary said it is important to provide support which is tailored to the individual needs of the person. “Everyone is different,” she said, “I try to find ways of supporting each person according to their abilities, needs, and wants”. Mary was able to develop a way of communicating with one person she supports who was having difficulty in being understood, by undertaking training in Makaton, a language system based on symbols, signs, and speech. “One woman we support is non-verbal. We took pictures of her making her Makaton signs and have put them up on the wall with what each one means. Now, everyone who supports her can understand what she is saying. It makes telling us what she wants so much easier for her.”
Mary said the most important skills a support worker can have are patience, understanding, and listening. She said that developing these skills over the years has benefitted her not just at work, but in many situations in life. She is also a keen believer in lifelong learning, and combining lived experience with new information. “There have been so many changes over the years, in how people are supported. I love to see changes and move with them. I learn from the younger support workers. I like to see people with different outlooks. I love to learn and to listen to their views. I learn from them and they learn from me.”
Mary said that one of the most challenging times of her career was working during the pandemic. “Being a support worker means supporting people through good times and bad times.” she said. “During the pandemic it was really difficult. The main priority was to keep everyone safe, both staff and people we support. It was a challenge for the staff, but even harder for people we support. At the end of the day we got to go home to our families, but they were unable to see friends and family for a long time.”
Despite the challenges, Mary says she feels fortunate that she can do a job that she gets so much fulfilment from.
“I feel very lucky that the staff have had great support from our management,” she said. “I’ve always felt that I can ask for help when I need it. I think Hft is special. My heart is here. I think it works because of the great staff and of course the people we support. My career has been a journey. One that I’ve really enjoyed. I believe I’ve made a difference in the lives of the people I support, and they have definitely made a difference in my life.”
Nicola Bonfield, Registered Cluster Manager for Hft Kent South said: “Mary is an exceptional member of staff, she is kind and caring both with the people we support and the staff. She is always happy to help out and share her knowledge of the people we support with new staff. Mary thinks first and foremost of the people we support, often telling me about items that she has seen when out shopping that she thinks a certain person will like. She is a Hft champion and I have the utmost respect for her.”
The vital role support workers play in supporting people with a learning disability to participate in social activities was highlighted earlier this month in Hft’s Lockdown on Loneliness research. The survey of more than 1,000 adults with learning disabilities found that almost a quarter of people did not have enough support to go out into their community, while two thirds (66%) said they would like more support to do social activities and make friends.
Hft Kent is currently recruiting at its service in Folkestone. If you are interested in a career in care and want to find out more about support worker roles at Hft please visit www.hft.org.uk/jobs
Notes to editors
Hft is a national charity that creatively supports more than 2,200 adults with learning disabilities across England and Wales to live the best life possible. Services range from residential care to supporting people to live independently in their own homes – from a few hours a week to 24 hours a day. Hft also helps people with learning disabilities to take part in daily activities, make friends and develop relationships and to find work.
Established in 1962, Hft is funded in two ways: through local authorities, who fund vital support services, but also through donors, supporters and volunteers who enable us to find new ways to help more people to thrive rather than just get by.
For more information about Hft please visit www.hft.org.uk