An actress, singer and storyteller who switched from a career in the theatre to become one of the youngest care home owners in Wales has won a top award.

Bethan Mascarenhas, now 33, was chosen by the Worshipful Company of Tallow Chandlers to receive its City and Guilds Livery Company Prize for 2023 for her outstanding commitment.

The honour came hot on the heels of what Bethan described as a ‘baptism of fire’ after she took on the Old Vicarage Care Home at Llangollen with her brother Richard just a few months before the Covid pandemic struck.

She had to dig deep to find the steely resilience and determination needed to lead her team through the crisis when she was only in her late twenties.

Bethan channelled reserves of energy she never knew she had and also took on the extra challenge of studying for a Level 5 management certification during the pandemic lockdown – and qualified with flying colours.

She says that was thanks to the unstinting support she received from her partner, her parents, her care team at the Old Vicarage and her tutors at Pendine Academy of Social Care, which is the training arm of the award-winning Pendine Park care organisation in Wrexham.

Pendine Academy assessor Jenna Evans who nominated Bethan for the award said her dedication to her leadership role and her resolve to always go the extra mile was formidable.

The City and Guilds Livery Company Prize is one of the most prestigious accolades given by the City and Guilds Foundation.

It was presented to Bethan by the Lord Mayor of London Alderman Nicholas Lyons at a ceremony and lunch at Mansion House in the City of London.

She took her partner, IT professional Nick Palmer, to the presentation and they spent a deserved short break in London to celebrate.

Bethan knew nothing about the nomination until she heard she had won.

She said: “It was the surprise of my life. Gaining the qualification in itself was already a reward in my eyes. But I feel so touched to have even been nominated, never mind won this award. It’s a huge honour.”

Bethan grew up surrounded by elderly residents in a care facility run by her parents Ken and Carol Mascarenhas who own Abbey Dingle Care Home in Llangollen.

She said: “It was a great way to grow up and made me realise from an early age how joyful being around elderly people can be. They all have such fascinating life-stories and I was constantly inspired by so many of the residents I became friends with.”

She believes it was living in that richly creative environment which led to her going into the arts.

After school she attended the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London and eventually set up her own touring theatre company delivering music and performance shows to audiences across the country.

She said: “Often we would perform for vulnerable society members. We would work with Arts in Health, Age UK and community theatre groups. I think my creative background and lifelong love of music was a massive source of strength helping see us through what were five of the most challenging years of our lives.”

Bethan was in her late twenties when she and her brother took on the Old Vicarage care home. She admits is was a big decision, made even more daunting when they found themselves confronting Covid as well, but she has never regretted the career switch.

She said: “It really was a baptism of fire for us trying to keep our residents safe through such an unprecedented and scary crisis. But we were determined to get through and put our residents’ wellbeing at the forefront of everything we did.

“That is why I decided to study for my Level 5 Management Qualification in the middle of it all. I felt I needed to be armed with as much knowledge as possible and learn the leadership skills to equip me to deal with the mountainous challenges we faced. It gave me the increased confidence and ability required to make informed and educated decisions.

“I am registered as the responsible adult at our care home and that meant I was the one our staff would turn to for leadership. I wanted to do that positively, and from the front.

“It was a hard ask studying during such critical times but I am so glad I did it.”

She also drew on her theatrical background to keep residents entertained and to help quell their anxiety during lockdown.

She said: “We came up with all sorts of ideas to reduce the isolation of lockdown. I used numerous of the skills I learned at arts school but I would also ask our residents and staff for ideas of activities which they would like to do and we would do anything which was within the realms of possibility whether it be storytelling sessions, gardening, listening to music together or holding mini indoor picnics. We did it all and we managed to keep Covid out of the home all the way through until 2022, well after the vaccinations programme had begun.”

Bethan was hugely grateful for the support of both her mentor Jenna and Pendine Park Academy lead assessor Ann Serridge who made themselves available at any time of the day for advice and moral support through the crisis.

She said: “They became good friends as well as trusted confidantes and tutors. I will be forever grateful for their support.”

Jenna praised Bethan’s work ethic, knowledge and compassion for her role as a manager.

She said: “Bethan has shown outstanding progression while completing her Level 5 management qualification during lockdown.

“I nominated her for this award so that others could see the incredible commitment she has shown during that time while also ensuring the wellbeing of individuals and staff in her care home. She is an amazing woman, manager and home owner.

“I am so very proud that she has been selected for this award, it is very well deserved.”

After a strenuous few years Bethan is now taking a temporary step back from her full time management role. She is still in constant touch with the home, its residents and all her staff, but she has decided to study for further qualifications to further underpin her leadership role.

She is part way through a year-long Master of Sciences degree in psychology with Chester University.

She said: “After my Level 5 I did a course on counselling. I found it so interesting that I knew immediately that I wanted to learn more about psychology.

“It will really help give me a deeper sight into the thought processes and needs of people dealing with emotions like fear, stress or anxiety as they enter a new phase in their lives or have to cope with issues such as dementia and memory loss.”