A bartender turned health care worker who turned her back on the pub trade to “make a difference” to others has scooped a national industry award.

Adele Ashman, who has worked as a support and rehabilitation practitioner for little over two years, has won a coveted gold award in the Exceptional Newcomer category, sponsored by Coleg Cambria, in the Wales Care Awards 2018.

Now in their 15th year, the national awards are organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales which is also toasting 25 years’ of service this year. Sponsored this year by Onyx Healthcare, they acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.

The 35-year-old, who lives in Tonypandy and works on behalf of Integra Community Living Options supporting individuals with a mental health diagnosis at the Ty Nant home in Thomastown, Rhondda Cynon Taff, collected her award at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff.

“I’m absolutely ecstatic,” said the former Tonypandy Comprehensive School pupil.

“It was such a surprise. It was an achievement just to be there and I wasn’t expecting to win gold at all.

“It was so emotional, not just for me but for everybody else too. Everybody gives so much in this profession, it’s amazing.

“My manager has always had a lot of faith in me but I just didn’t have confidence in myself and now I’ve achieved this it goes to show I do have the confidence there.  But it’s not just about me – it’s for everybody I work with. I’m very proud.”

Adele held a number of bar and pub jobs after leaving school until deciding she wanted to give something back to the community and feel more job satisfaction.

“Pubs are closing all the time and I was going from one pub to another and just decided one day to do something different instead,” she said.

Adele cares for a group of men living communally in a house in Thomastown. The occupants range from their early 20s up to their 70s and have a variety of complex mental health needs.

Adele’s role is to support them to become independent again with a view to them returning to the community to live on their own when they feel ready.

“I’ve taken them to football matches, bowling, the cinema, cricket and horseracing. Anything they want to do we try and organise it,” she said.

“There was one client who dreamt of starting college as he was illiterate. Now he can read and write and that makes me feel amazing.

“This job has changed me as a person. I no longer make any judgements about anyone and totally understand why some people behave in the way they do. Not everyone has an easy life.

“Before this job, I thought everyone knew how to use a washing machine but obviously they don’t. Some people need help to do the simplest things in life – things that we often take for granted.

“It’s a very rewarding job. My very first client has moved on and is now really successful. He even does voluntary work.

“When he first came to us he wouldn’t even look me in the eye let alone hold a conversation. He has come on leaps and bounds and that makes me very proud.

“I could never go back to bar work again.  This is a lot more meaningful and I feel like I’m making a difference. We’re helping people gain self-esteem and self-worth which they never had before.”

Nominating Adele for her award, registered manager Haydn Osborne said: “Adele is the first employee I have nominated for the category of ‘Exceptional Newcomer’. She has become a valuable member of the team who can always be relied upon. Adele does not know her worth and the impact she makes on the client’s lives. I only wish she joined the team sooner.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists have 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.”