Jane Colenso, Operations Director for the South West region shares her journey with Dimensions.
In 2002 I was a single mum with three children, finishing my Master’s degree. I also needed to work, so when I applied to Dimensions I certainly didn’t expect to be here almost 20 years later!
I initially applied for an Assistant Locality Manager (ALM) role, which I didn’t get. However I was given the opportunity to become a relief worker; this meant I could choose my shifts around my other responsibilities. The flexibility was a huge plus but I quickly realised “working” was becoming my favourite part of the week. Every shift was wonderful, it didn’t feel like a job and it made me feel great. I decided this was what I wanted to do, so after six months I became a permanent colleague.
I supported a number of people in two different houses. It’s important to remember that for you it might be work, but for the people we support it’s their home. I learned the role and after a couple of years I was promoted to ALM. This meant more responsibility and different duties. I had to learn about admin and bureaucracy, but I was still hands on supporting people. Just six months later I was given the chance to become a Locality Manager (LM), this meant I managed the team and two locations.
Over the next years I was asked to set up new houses for people and sent in to troubleshoot others when a problem might arise. My team grew in size and responsibilities, yet my love of the job and the joy of supporting people never waned. Eventually I became a Super Locality Manager, responsible for managing 2000 hours of support a week.
Moving on up and coping with the coronavirus
Last year the position of Operations Director (OD) for the South West became available and I decided to go for it. Unfortunately it wasn’t my time and I wasn’t successful. However the first choice candidate declined the role and I was offered it as a six month secondment. This meant I could learn on the job and fill in the gaps in my experience. Then COVID-19 hit…
It was a strange time for everyone. I was now responsible for eight LMs, 40 properties and 143 people we support; it was potentially very daunting. I decided to focus on how we could keep the people we support and colleagues safe and motivated. Activities had suddenly stopped and once busy lives were quiet. I worked with the team to create a structure and simple routine. Mornings were a time to relax, then lunch, an afternoon activity, dinner then TV or a walk in the evening.
I held twice weekly video calls: ‘Monday catch up’ and ‘How did the week go?’ on a Friday. Managers were sharing ideas and photos of activities with each other. Competitions were organised, beauty sessions held in gardens and I sent cream teas out as a treat.
As COVID dragged on my secondment was extended for a further six months and then in March this year it was made permanent.
Reflecting on my journey
I’m incredibly proud that five of my eight managers are staff that have come through from teams I have managed. I love to nurture talent. I read once that in World War I when the British army was faced with a challenge they would identify who in the ranks might have skills that were relevant. So subordinates would lead projects and superiors would learn from them. I love identifying colleagues’ skills and interests, then giving them responsibilities and titles. It gives them a chance to shine and develop within their roles.
One huge success in my 12 months as OD was to reduce the use of agency staff from 17% to 0%! To me this isn’t about saving money, it’s about the people we support having continuity in their staff, so that they feel secure and can thrive.
I have loved what I do every day, even the challenging ones. I do miss supporting people but I get sent photos, videos, stories and updates that make me feel like I am still involved: hearing that someone has gone swimming for the first time in 40 years and loved it; supporting someone to go on the holiday of a lifetime to Florida; or seeing the face of a lady with profound and multiple learning disabilities light up when she is shown her face mask during a beauty session make my days. I feel every achievement.
Considering the future
Over 19 years I have been listened to, supported and nurtured by Dimensions. I have gained qualifications and skills that I could never have imagined. This job isn’t about the money, but if you want to feel good about what you do every day then give us a go. If you commit you will be rewarded. Dimensions provides all the training, it’s what is inside of you that’s important.