Name: Sue Dickinson
Role: Support Worker
Age: 60
Region: South Oxfordshire and Berkshire
Previous career: Bodybuilder and gym owner

People with learning disabilities have always been a big part of Sue Dickinson’s life, who became a support worker 16 years ago and hasn’t looked back since.

What did you do before you became a support worker?

I initially owned a gym with my husband in Wantage in Oxfordshire. Alongside the day-to-day management of the gym, I was also a competitive bodybuilder, winning Miss Athletic South of England one year, while juggling my day job, a rigorous training schedule and looking after my family.

Hft came into my life in 1990, when I was asked whether I’d be willing to open the gym to people supported by Hft twice a week outside of public hours. I did, and it was so satisfying to be able to provide a safe gym environment for vulnerable adults, where they could use machines and free weights, and even do some boxing. Nothing like this had been offered in the local area before, so it was brilliant to be able to guide people to do things they didn’t have the opportunity to do anywhere else.

What made you decide to become a support worker?

In 2000, a fire that had started in an adjoining garage sadly destroyed the gym. But two years later the opportunity came up to use my passion for fitness in a care setting when the managers of my local Hft service announced they were renovating an old building to turn it into a gym, complete with equipment and a spa. They invited me to apply to join the team as a support worker, largely focused on supporting people to use the gym.

Although my own daughter is disabled, I hadn’t ever thought about working in care. But I missed the people who used to come to my gym, already knew how Hft worked, liked what I saw in the staff, and saw how happy the supported people there were, so it seemed like a great opportunity.

Sue with her daughters Jody and Kyley

How has support work changed your life?

Now I get to work alongside the brilliant and encouraging people who support my daughter, and who I’ve grown to consider as good friends. When I worked at the gym it consumed my life but the hours in this role suit me and my family much better.

What have the highlights of your support worker career been?

Even after 15 years, I still love supporting people to learn new skills. Every new achievement is a celebration – one man struggled to break an egg into a bowl without shell going everywhere so it was fantastic when he did it for the first time. Another man climbed the equivalent distance to the top of the Eiffel Tower on the stepping machine in the gym.

I love my job and hope I’ve been able to make a difference to people’s lives.

What skills do you need to be a great support worker?

I think great support workers are patient, understanding, good listeners and people who can put a smile on other people’s faces.  If you want to make a difference to someone’s life and help them to live it more fully, then give it a go. It really is so rewarding.

Find out more about becoming a support worker on our jobs page.