A mum of two who turned to care work to stave off loneliness when she moved to Wales is in the running for a major award.

Flor Nessbert has worked for Penylan House Nursing Home in Cardiff, part of Linc Cymru, for the past eight years and is currently the home’s Activities Coordinator.

The keen artist, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico, makes it her daily mission to brighten the lives of her elderly residents and will stop at nothing to bring fun and laughter into their lives.

Her painting classes are now so popular they’ve had to be scheduled on multiple days of the week so staff can fit everyone in.

The 51-year-old, who lives in Cardiff, is now celebrating the fruits of her effort with a place in the final of the Wales Care Awards 2022 after being nominated for the Promoting Fulfilled Lives award, sponsored by Boots Care Services.

The annual event is hosted by social care champions Care Forum Wales which supports more than 450 care homes, nursing homes and other independent health and social care providers across Wales.

Flor will now join dozens of care workers at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, October 21, hosted by popular tenor, Wynne Evans, best known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV ads.

“I’m very excited. This is the second time I’ve been nominated and I’m really grateful,” she said.

“I really enjoy what I do and wouldn’t change it. If my time as a care worker came to an end I would probably still volunteer – the need to help people is strong.

“It’s been a rollercoaster but in a good way. I believe very strongly my mission is to change the way people see care homes, especially since the pandemic. Care homes are not sad places, they’re just another stage of someone’s life journey. We have people here who do more now than they ever have in the past.

“Whatever I do is with my heart and mind of trying to make a difference.”

Flor moved to Wales from her homeland in 2003 after meeting her husband, Cardiff-born Nick, but she initially struggled with loneliness and admits to finding care work by accident.

“When I moved here, the road I lived on had lots of retired people. Many were widows or elderly people and so I started to make friends,” she said.

“I have no family here. I’m always looking for a family type of feeling and I really enjoy the company of older people. I started out helping the neighbours and used to do their shopping or take them to the hairdressers.  Sometimes we’d go for lunch or I’d tidy up for them. There was never any intention to get a job, I just knew they needed help.

“I made friends with a lady and we used to have a great time. Unfortunately, she had a couple of falls. She came to live at Penylan and I started to come and visit her. I carried on taking her out to the hairdressers and thought maybe it would be easier for me to just get a job here.”

Flor, who has a daughter aged 21, and a son aged 16, initially worked nights on a part-time basis which naturally progressed into an activities coordinator role.

“If people didn’t want to go to bed we’d sing and dance or paint!” she said.

“I come from a family of creative people – my mother was a dressmaker and artist – so I suggested starting an art club.

“It started with three people who liked it so much, they asked me to come back out of hours after my shift to do another. Then it went crazy. We now have 20 people and I’ve had to split them into different groups as there were too many.

“It gives them a purpose. It wasn’t so much about what they created but the enjoyment they got out of it.”

One of the highlights of her career was when one of her poorly clients wrote her a letter and asked her niece to post it a few months after she had passed.  It thanked her for making a difference to her life through her painting classes and the time she invested in making people happy.

“She said I’d given her a purpose,” said Flor.

“She knew she wasn’t going to be around when I read it. It arrived in the middle of the pandemic and really encouraged me to go even further to understand people and what they need. It’s almost as if she knew the hard times were coming.”

Congratulating Flor on her success, Edgar Bautista, Linc’s Head of Nursing, said: “Developing activities that evoke happy memories, stimulate conversation and promote residents’ dignity and wellbeing is a key part of Flor’s role. This was never more important than during the pandemic when nursing homes were closed to visitors and outsiders, and Flor had to think of creative ways of keeping the residents stimulated when there was limited contact with the outside world.

“She took on this challenge with great passion, and despite the difficulties we were facing, was able to create an environment where our residents could lead fulfilled lives.

“I am delighted that Flor has been recognised by the Wales Care Awards, she thoroughly deserves her place in the final!”

Mario Kreft MBE, Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the aim of the Wales Care Awards was to recognise the unstinting and remarkable dedication of unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

He said “The social care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job, it’s a vocation – these are people who go the extra mile for others.

“During the Covid crisis, this fantastic workforce rose magnificently to the challenge, putting their own lives on the line to do everything they possibly could to safeguard the people for whom they provide care.

“Unfortunately, it has taken a global pandemic for many other people to realise how important and how significant our social care workforce is.

“Their incredible contribution was summed up best in the powerful and emotive words of the song, Heroes of our Heart, written by the acclaimed poet Mererid Hopwood and sung by Sir Bryn Terfel, which was set to the famous tune of Men of Harlech. The message that the diolch should last forever is one that we should never forget.

“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never provide the standards people need and never recognise the value of people who need care in society.

“All the nominees deserve to be lauded and applauded and it’s a real pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists.

“I congratulate all the individuals who have shown outstanding dedication and professionalism. Every one of them should be proud of their achievement.

“They are Wales’s finest.”