What Simon has packed into the past 21 years is quite astonishing. After registration as a nurse, he has gained two first class degrees and a masters’ degree, authored text books on autism and learning disabilities, taught at Oxford Brookes University – all while working in the community in the Learning Disability Services.
All the more astounding, this is his second career.
“I became an accountant because at school I was good at maths,” he laughs. “But I always found the people side of work much more interesting than the numbers side. The thing is, I never felt that money was that important – but you can’t say that if you are an accountant!”
Career change through volunteering
Simon’s path to nursing began when he was made redundant. Being a man who cannot stand not being busy, he sought and found voluntary work, first with a playgroup for children with special needs and then in a home for people with a learning disability.
“It was just lovely,” Simon recalls. “The manager there said ‘You seem to be cut out for this sort of work. If you’re going to do it though, you need to get a qualification’. So, I went and did my nurse training in Bristol.”
Since then, Simon has worked in residential care, respite care, day centres – in every kind of setting that you can with people with a learning disability or autistic people.
“And then I got a job working as a community nurse, which was my dream job,” Simon says.
Interest in the most excluded
As his career progressed, Simon kept developing new interests.
“I particularly enjoyed working with people who’ve got behaviours of concern, or what we used to call challenging behaviour. This meant they were excluded, and their quality of life was very poor. I felt I could do something about it.”
“You know, these people were no different from you and me. The only difference was they had limited communication and limited understanding of the world, and therefore couldn’t make people aware of what their needs were or when they were unhappy or in pain.”
“I am currently working with an individual who has spent many years in in-patient services. We have managed to re-establish this person living back in the community, with a fantastic caring team around him, a lovely house and with family living very nearby, who he sees or speaks to daily. He goes out into the community every day. The difference in his quality of life to what it was year ago is massive.
“If I had only ever worked with that one person, I would feel that my career had been worthwhile. But you get to work with lots of individuals like that where you can make such a difference; it’s fantastic.”
Family of colleagues
It comes loud and clear that people are what most matters to Simon, as it was in his previous career, and he hugely values his colleagues at Oxford Health.
“I couldn’t believe my luck when I got this job working in Oxford Health. I’ve done previous roles where I’ve travelled all over the UK, which again I had quite enjoyed. But to have this job almost on my doorstep with such a fantastic bunch of people that I work with – it makes such a difference.”
Simon describes an exercise he sometimes runs at work:
“I get people to write a list of things that they want in life. And they invariably say, well, I want friends and family, I want a job I enjoy, I want to live somewhere nice, want to have holidays that I enjoy. But if you ask them to prioritise those, it’s always friends and family absolutely at the top.
“That’s what I think working in this sort of sphere gives you: that lovely family of colleagues.”
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Published: 23 February 2022