A former shop worker who decided to swap careers and become a carer after the death of a close family friend is in the running for an award.

But when Shauna Martin was interviewed by her now residential home employer in Port Talbot she came across as shy and lacking in confidence.

Then during her six month induction period she demonstrated outstanding development, so much so that she is on the shortlist for the Exceptional Newcomer sponsored by Coleg Cambria at the 15th Wales Care Awards at City Hall in Cardiff on Friday, October 19.

The awards are organised by Care Forum Wales, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.

Shauna was put forward by Karen Rogers, manager at the Llys y Seren Residential Care Home in Port Talbot where she works.

“I’ve done a lot of growing up in the last year,” admits Shauna, aged 24, from Port Talbot. “In fact, I hardly recognise myself now.”

Shauna experienced the death of a close family friend who was a victim of cancer aged in their 50s.

“I had jobs in the retail sector initially, but then I worked in a volunteer role for eight months at the main hospital in Port Talbot because I knew I hadn’t got a chance as a job as carer without that experience,” she said.

“The death of a family friend really affected me and I was determined to make a career in the caring profession. I’m delighted I made that choice.”

Llys y Seren has 60 residents in units of 10, the majority suffering from dementia.

Karen says Shauna originally thought the home was offering her a volunteer role rather than a full-time job as a personal care assistant.

“She visited the ‘Me Myself and I’ café in Briton Ferry, which specialises in dementia, and also became a dementia friend before starting her role at Llys y Seren,” said Karen.

“This showed us that Shauna had the drive and passion for care as a vocation.”

Once at the care home Shauna enjoyed chatting to residents and getting to know their likes and dislikes.

“With this information she would eagerly help the team leader add to the care plans, which was very impressive as she had no prior care experience or qualifications,” said Karen.

Despite her inexperience, Shauna was quickly placed in the dementia unit at Llys y Seren as she understood the nature and impact of mental health issues on residents and the impact of dementia on the key people in individual’s lives.

Despite boasting less than a year’s experience, Karen says she has become a role model to long term staff.

“Shauna is very quietly spoken but residents, families and staff have great respect for her,” said Karen. “One staff member recently said ‘if my mother was living here I would want Shauna to look after her’.”

Shauna has built on her confidence during her short time at Llys y Seren.

“When we first met Shauna we would never have thought that she would be the first to get up and sing for the residents, which she does now with pride,” said Karen. “Residents remember Shauna’s name and often ask she she’s next in.

“Since working with us we have never seen Shauna sad, she is always consistent, a very happy person who always has a smile on her face.”

Karen said Shauna is a great ambassador for the home and not only sees Llys y Seren as her workplace, but also feels a sense of belonging.

“Shauna is an outstanding worker, an asset to Llys y Seren,” said Karen. “She is proof that the attributes needed to a great carer are passion, drive, a positive attitude and commitment.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.

He said: “This year’s ceremony is an even more special occasion because it marks the 15thanniversary of the Wales Care Awards and the 25th anniversary of Care Forum Wales and the event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.

“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.

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

“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.”