A care manager who followed generations of her family into nursing has added a top care gong to her name.

Karen Beech, 55, scooped a coveted bronze award at this year’s Wales Care Awards, held at City Hall in Cardiff.

The national awards, run by Care Forum Wales and sponsored overall by Ontex Healthcare and Barchester Jobs, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.

Karen was shortlisted for the Excellence in Leadership and Management in Residential Care Services category, sponsored by Christie & Co.

The care worker accepted her gong at a glittering ceremony hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV adverts.

Karen, from Willow Grove, Aberdare, says making a difference to people’s lives, however small, is the key to career satisfaction and long-term happiness.

The mother-of-two, whose daughter Katie, 29, is now following in her mother’s footsteps as a trainee nurse, has spent more than 35 years in the care industry and admits there hasn’t been a single day where she would have changed her job.

As clinical care manager at Greenhill Manor residential home in Pentrebach, Merthyr Tydfil, the trained nurse is responsible for the care of 120 residents with a range of health needs from dementia through to young people living with physical disabilities.

The care worker, whose husband Ian, 56, is a lecturer in nursing at the University of South Wales, said: “I’m not one for the limelight but it’s very rewarding to hear what other people think of you and it’s given me a boost.

“I always find it difficult to sell myself but I guess one of my strengths is that I always do what I say I’m going to do and I see everything through to the end.

“I like to work on people’s strengths. You need all sorts of people to make a good team. One of my proudest moments was when a former nurse I employed told me she wouldn’t be where she is today if it wasn’t for me.

“This job is incredibly rewarding – you don’t have to do anything massive to make a difference, whether it’s a resident or staff member, it’s the small things that count.”

Karen, who was born in Swansea and also has a son, David, 25, started out as a trainee nurse at 18, working with mental health patients for the NHS. She moved to the independent sector around 20 years ago, working in residential homes for people with mental health issues, and has worked for Hallmark Care Homes, which owns Greenhill Manor.

“The very first care home I worked in was like an epiphany to me,” she said.

“I realised ‘this is what I want to do’. In a hospital setting, you’re constrained by red tape all the time. I wanted the opportunity to get to know people individually and help them in a different way and working in a care home you get to become part of an extended family.

“It’s a very rewarding job and I wouldn’t do anything else. My husband is a nurse. Both his parents and grandparents were all nurses and so we’re the third generation couple to go into the profession. You could say it’s in the blood.

“It was quite unusual for men to work as a nurse in those times and I find it absolutely fascinating to listen to Ian’s parents about how it used to be. I think we can learn a lot from the past.”

Among the many highlights of her career is Karen’s work as a Dementia Friends’ champion which has seen her lead awareness sessions for more than 300 people at colleges, schools, corporate events and with families.

She is also a keen fundraiser, visiting Snowdon with some of the younger residents who are living with disabilities, and supporting a local food bank.

Last year, Karen beat dozens of care home workers to win a coveted Hallmark Charter Award for going above and beyond the call of duty in her job.

Mark McCole, general manager at Hallmark Care Homes, who nominated Karen for the award, said: “Karen is always very keen to develop the team and she is a mentor for preceptorship nurses. Karen always puts the residents at the centre of everything she does, she will also challenge decisions that she feels are not in the resident’s best interests.

“Karen’s heart is bigger than her body and always puts others before her first.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

“We take our hats off to them.”