Maureen Benson joined Age UK Northumberland 16 years ago and has risen through the ranks to make a career out of care.
In March 1997, she joined the charity as a home care attendant, so she could fit a job in around her family life.
With a young son and having just returned to the area after travelling with her husband Richie’s RAF career, Maureen needed flexibility. She also wanted to work with people.
Previously Maureen had worked in administration positions, and had worked for a care agency, where she discovered she had a passion about looking after others.
Living in Shilbottle now, she line manages 50 home care attendants and two co-ordinators from The Roundhouse in Ashington, covering the vast area of rural north Northumberland taking in Rothbury, Bamburgh, Longhoughton, Alnwick, Longframlington and Longhorsely.
Maureen loves her job, ensuring that Age UK Northumberland deliver a quality home care service. As well as ensuring that all the calls are made on time and covered, she checks in with service users to make sure they are happy with the service. She is also not averse to going out to deliver the care herself, if she is ever needed to cover due to the unexpected absence of a carer.
In her role Maureen also trains new recruits. She is key to the care assessment days that the charity is currently running once a fortnight. She said: “At the moment we have a huge drive on to find more home care attendants for north Northumberland. We are running assessments days fortnightly and are on the look out for very specific people with exceptional talents.
“A big part of being a carer is your personality, so just an interview just won’t show us if a person is right. We look for common sense, a big heart, loyalty, flexibility, trustworthiness, empathy, and good communication skills. Our assessment day allows us to glean if people are right for the care role and allows them to get a proper taste of whether it suits them or not too.”
The assessment day starts off with a talk on Age UK Northumberland – the ethos and ethics of the organisation along with a full picture of exactly what the charity does and is trying to achieve.
The role of a home care attendant is then explained in depth, before the candidates are split into groups to carry out two exercises. During these group activities the candidates are being assessed on their qualities…how they communicate, team spirit, interaction and proactive attitude are all looked for.
Feedback is very important to Maureen and at this stage she is very honest with the candidates.
“There is no room anymore to say ‘I’m just a carer’. It’s a career to be proud of for the difference you make to people’s lives, rather than the money you earn. It is however a hard job, and you do need go into it with your eyes open,” said Maureen.
Each candidate then has a personal interview with two managers, before they undertake a key skills check with the HR manager. The day closes with all the Age UK Northumberland team going back over the day, and choosing the successful candidates to offer positions to.
“We have around 10 people on each of the assessment days and it is intense but very satisfying when we find the right people to look after our older population,” said Maureen.
Her favourite part of her role is taking home with her every night that she and her team have made a difference in someone’s life that day – in helping them have the ability to stay in their own home.
Sadly, Maureen’s parents have had to go to live in care homes due to their own health challenges, but it is something she would have very much like to see for her own family.
“I would rather have them at home together, but their health needs, following a stroke for Dad and Mum’s dementia means they need constant, around the clock care. Therefore, if I can help other people enjoy their own homes for as long as possible, then my working day is complete,” she said.
Maureen’s least favourite part of the job is if her team let her down on calls. Luckily this doesn’t happen often as the selection process is tighter and her team of carers is dedicated to their service users.
She said: “We really need people who are aware of the impact of their place in the people’s lives they look after. Gone are the days where we will entertain staff calling in sick on a bank holiday Monday for example. This is a serious role, delivering quality, without fail, and we are looking for very special people to join us. In return, they will get into bed every night knowing they are responsible for making people happy in their own homes that day…priceless.”
Anyone interested in joining Maureen’s team can contact Age UK Northumberland on 0845 1400088 for more information and an application pack.
Town popular with families
Rothbury is a town and civil parish located on the River Coquet, 13.5 miles northwest of Morpeth and 26 miles north of Newcastle.
It is a picturesque town, thriving from its tourist trade. Popular with families and walkers thanks to a number of landmarks such as Cragside, Rothbury is busy all year round.
The majority of the circa 1800 population is over 50, as work in the immediate area is limited to tourist trade. Farming offers some employment, but not as much as it used to, and the market days are in decline. Many younger generations have had to leave the area to find work, although a number of new clusters of commuters have chosen to settle in the countryside and have chosen Rothbury.
The geography of the area makes life hard for older residents who don’t drive, and the nearest large shops are a good distance away in Morpeth or Alnwick. Age UK Northumberland has a lot of service users in this area and they need many more Home Care Attendants to join this local team, which is managed by Maureen Benson.