A former soldier who has worked tirelessly to ensure people with mental health and complex needs can lead independent lives in their community is proud his work has been recognised nationally.

Ray O’Hara, from Tredegar in Blaenau Gwent, won a silver award in the category for  Commitment To Training & Workforce Development at the prestigious Wales Care Awards, dubbed the Oscars of social care.

Hosted by popular tenor Wynne Evans and sponsored by healthcare products company Ontex UK, the glittering Wales Care Awards ceremony took place at City Hall in Cardiff.

Ray is the Human Resources (HR) Supervisor at Arches Support Services, a supported living provider, which works closely with Educ8 who provide apprenticeship programmes and training for its clients across South Wales.

He served for 18 years in the Armed forces with the Ist Battalion The Royal Regiment of Wales.

Ray joined Arches Support Services in 2008 after his interest in supporting individuals was sparked while working with the Tredegar Development Trust as a Project Manager alongside social workers who cared for such people.

Based at the Arches Support Services base at the Innovation Centre in Ebbw Vale, Ray said he was delighted to be shortlisted for the award but was quick to include his colleagues in the nomination.

Speaking before the ceremony Ray said: “We currently support around 21 individuals on a 24/7 basis. They live in their own homes and live independently with support from our staff. It’s a fantastic achievement for the company because it shows what it can do.

“First and foremost the task is to ensure that service users are safe and the way to do that is to ensure staff know what they are doing and can deal with situations as they arise. We do that with the correct training.

“The nomination means a lot to us because it shows what we are doing is right. For many members of staff, working with an individual can be quite daunting, especially at first with individuals whose needs can be quite challenging. Thankfully we manage to keep our staff long term and that is a measure of success because of our low turnover.”

According to Ray, Arches Support Services are fully supportive of their workforce and are keen to see staff develop in their roles, ensuring they have the right knowledge and skills. Arches currently have 14 Learners on various Learning programmes.

He said all new staff receive an induction course and on completion are referred to Educ8 to complete their relevant learning in Health & Social Care.

“A planned programme for the training and development of staff is essential to ensure good practice and the provision of a quality service.”

“Without a skilled, committed and well-trained staff team they cannot succeed in its aim to provide high-quality care

“We are working with individuals who have varying and different needs and the staff need to be trained specifically for that individual. It’s my job to ensure that they are up-to-date and make sure they have the correct training,” he said.

Mario Kreft, chairman 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.”