A former motivational coach who switched careers after being made redundant on the same day as his wife has taken bronze at a top care industry awards gala.

Shawn Sullivan spent the best part of 30 years working in the electricity and energy industry in a variety of clerical roles before being appointed as a motivational coach and trainer until the firm he worked for closed during the pandemic – leaving himself and wife Andrea out of work.

The 52-year-old decided to put his positive attitude and encouragement skills to good use by applying for a job as an activities assistant at Mill View Care Home in Williamstown, Rhondda Cynon Taf, part of the SilverCrest Care Group.

The former disability athletics coach hasn’t looked back since and is now toasting two years of service with a coveted industry award.

Dad-of-three Shawn, from Llantwit Fardre, was presented with a bronze award in the Promoting Fulfilled Lives category, sponsored by Boots Care Services, at this year’s Wales Care Awards.

The annual event is organised 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.

Shawn accepted his award from Carol Shillabeer, chief executive of Powys Teaching Health Board, 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.

“After thirty years working in one industry to being nominated for something like this in such a short space of time is massive,” said Shawn.

“It’s something I’m really proud of and while it’s not going to go to my head, it’s lovely to be recognised by the company and my fellow workers.

“I love engaging with the residents, it’s all about the connection and warmth for me. I like making the residents smile and I like seeing them come alive.

“This job gives me a purpose, there’s no clock-watching – I’m all in. I just love giving them the time to become themselves again and drawing out the old character and finding those moments where you unlock the potential of who they used to be.

“Everybody has been reminding me of how amazing it is to be nominated for this award but I’m taking it in my stride and feeling very humble about it.

“I always try to give 100 per cent – in every job I’ve ever had – and the support I’ve had at SilverCrest has been brilliant.”

Shawn, who has two grown up children and a son aged 13, joined SilverCrest’s Mill View Care Home in Pentre two years ago after redundancy.

He quickly found himself promoted to the Activities Coordinator’s role at the home when it became vacant through maternity leave and moved on to become the Activities Coordinator at the Ty Nant specialist dementia home a year ago this November.

“To be working for the same energy company and told the business was shutting down really affected us. It was a big challenge that we had to come to terms with,” he said.

“I asked myself what I could do based on the skills I had. I’d been a motivational coach and mentor in work and also a disability athletics coach for ten years with Barry and Vale Harriers Athletics Club as my daughter was born without a left forearm. I also coach the under 14s at our local football team, Llantwit Fardre FC. With the energy I still had, and the type of character I am, I thought I could use that in an activities role.”

Despite suffering a rare health emergency in his first week when he developed a blood clot in his lung which has left him on constant medication, nothing was going to stand in the way of his new career.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done – to move into an activities role and care for people,” he said.

“There’s more to a person than just bingo. If you know they were a lorry or train driver, then you design your activity towards something they will be interested in.

“I have a couple of guys who are ex-Army and I march up to them and salute them every morning. They’ll say ‘stand easy’ and I’ll say ‘thank you sir!’. It’s about finding that initial connection and then the next thing you know, you’re talking about the services and Army life.”

Shawn was put forward for the award by Rama Mannari, SilverCrest’s regional activities manager.

She said: “Shawn had no previous care experience when he joined us but made a massive difference pretty much immediately. He’s wonderful with the residents, he takes time to get to know them and they all warm to him immediately. He gets on with the job and never grumbles and doesn’t even realise how good he is – we’re immensely proud of him.”

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.”