A bubbly care worker who says entertaining elderly dementia sufferers has provided her with a positive outlet for her ADHD has struck gold at the social care Oscars.
Natasha Williams has lived with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms since childhood but said it was not until she was appointed as the activities and fundraising manager for the Meddyg Care Group, which has two specialist dementia care homes in Criccieth and Porthmadog, that she found a way to apply her boundless energy and enthusiasm to make a difference.
ADHD is a condition that affects people’s behaviour, often making sufferers feel restless, impatient and preventing them from concentrating.
Mum-of-two Natasha, who was born and raised in Criccieth, says her role as an activities and fundraising manager has given her an excuse to unleash her excitement and enthusiasm for a good purpose.
And now she is now the toast of the social care industry after winning two gold awards at the annual Wales Care Awards.
Natasha scooped the top prize in the Promoting Fulfilled Lives category, sponsored by Boots Care Services and presented by Carol Shillabeer, chief executive of Powys Teaching Health Board.
She also won Dignity in Care award, sponsored by the Welsh Government and presented by Julie Morgan, Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services.
The ceremony is organised annually by social care champion Care Forum Wales which supports more than 450 care homes, nursing homes and other independent health and social care providers across Wales.
Natasha joined dozens of care workers at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff, hosted by popular tenor, Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.
Reacting to her win, Natasha said: “I think this is the first time in my life I’ve been lost for words – normally I don’t shut up!
“I’m sure my bosses were thinking, ‘Thank God she didn’t have to make a speech – she’d have been there all day! Honestly, I’m just so grateful for my team, they work extremely hard.
“It all happened so quickly on the night. I’d just gone up on stage for the Promoting Fulfilled Lives award and my team were all cuddling me when I heard my name again. I was so overwhelmed, shocked and grateful, I’m feeling a whirlwind of emotions.
“The care sector has been under recognised in the past but since covid, we are becoming more appreciated. We’ve always done our jobs quietly, but we really can take over the world.”
From arranging close encounters with snakes and spiders through to booking performances by ballerinas and local performing artists, Natasha will do anything to engage her residents.
She even convinced company bosses to turn a lounge into a pub and hunted down authentic memorabilia including a brass bell, beer pumps and chairs to bring her vision to life.
The 29-year-old, who married her childhood sweetheart James earlier this summer, said: “I love my job and I’m constantly looking for ideas to do more. One of the reasons why I love it so much is I’ve never been told no!
“I feed off other people. I’m such an enthusiastic person and I always think to myself ‘imagine having a boss that says no!’ Of course, I’ve had to wind it in a bit at times, but they have never burst my bubble. It’s this that gives me the oomph to continue and if it wasn’t for my employers, I don’t think I would be as enthusiastic and always wanting to make change.
“This last week I’ve been on my hands and knees painting a yellow brick road in the garden! Everything I’ve asked for I’ve been given.
“I’m extremely proud to have made the shortlist. I’m a very dramatic person as you can imagine and so this is absolutely amazing for me!”
Natasha, who attended Ysgol Treferthyr in Criccieth, studied for a degree in dance at the London School of Dance. After university, she took on retail jobs and shifts in restaurants, pubs and clubs until the birth of her son six years ago when she needed a more flexible job.
She secured a role as a carer at Meddyg Care’s Criccieth home and was promoted to team leader within two years before further promotion as a senior carer and then as activities and fundraising manager across both homes – a role she says could not have been more suitable.
“I was so hyperactive as a child,” she said.
“In swimming lessons, they’d try and teach me things but I was busy being a shark, in ballet I’d see how many spins I could do while the rest of the class were learning something else and in karate I’d spend my time sliding from room to room on the floor in my socks – I was always known as the destructive one! Everyone knew I had ADHD but my mum didn’t want people to put a label on me.
“Although it has got easier, I still have the traits. I can’t sit still – I find it very hard – and that’s where the activities role came my way.
“I now look after residents with dementia who struggle to remember their family members, but they call me a beautiful headache!”
Natasha was nominated for the award by Kevin Edwards, Managing Director of Meddyg Care.
He said: “Natasha is the epitome of an employee that goes above and beyond for our residents, their families and her colleagues.
“Natasha’s bright smile, cheery demeanour and outgoing personality brings warmth to our homes and her familiarity with all our residents is testament to her dedication as our Activities Manager.
“Meddyg Care are incredibly proud of Natasha and having been shortlisted for the Promoting Fulfilled Lives Award only further highlights that she is a true `superstar’ and has a bright future ahead of her. We wish Natasha every success.”
Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the ceremony was all the more poignant because of the Covid pandemic and what front line staff had endured.
He said: “I would like to pay a heartfelt tribute to all the wonderful people who work in social care after the rose magnificently and courageously to meet the unprecedented challenges they have faced over the past couple of years.
“We have always recognised their true value and hopefully now the rest of Wales is also aware of how lucky we are as a nation to have them providing care and safeguarding our most vulnerable people.
“Our finalists are the best of the best and are here representing the whole social care workforce who all deserve a big pat on the back.
“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 and in the months and years to come.
“In the words of the powerful song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, let the Diolch last forever.
“We take our hats off to them.”