An inspirational nurse who started off as a care assistant with no formal qualifications has been honoured at the social care Oscars.

Emma Watkins, 32, is deputy manager of College Fields Nursing Home in Barry where she has worked for the past decade and become a popular figure with staff, residents and their families.

She has been praised for breaking down the stigma often unfairly attached to the care industry, such is her commitment to ensuring residents maintain their dignity and independence, while also carrying out research so she can regularly train and develop colleagues to provide the best possible standard of care, whilst keeping her practice up to date.

Emma’s passion and dedication for College Fields and its residents has been no more evident than in the last 12 months where she has not missed a single day of work despite juggling her job with caring for her mum who was left paralysed after an accident at home.

Her rise from care assistant to a leader in the home has led her landing the bronze award in the Independent Sector Nurse of the Year category, sponsored by Ontex UK, in the 15th annual Wales Care Awards.

The prestigious national awards, run by Care Forum Wales which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, has been dubbed the “Oscars” of the care industry as it acknowledges the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the sector.

The glitzy ceremony, sponsored by Onyx Healthcare, took place at City Hall in Cardiff.

A delighted Emma, who lives in St Athan with husband Steven, said: “I nearly cried when I found out I had been nominated. I was so overwhelmed and really happy. I honestly didn’t expect it because it’s such a hard category.

“The home has been so supportive to me and the staff are fantastic. I love working here.

“I’ve had so many good times here but the highlight for me will be the care awards.

“It’s getting that recognition that you’re doing the job the best you can.

“I feel like I’m only doing what I should be doing so for them to be saying that I’m going above and beyond is amazing.”

Emma began working at College Fields as a care assistant in 2008 and over the past decade has embarked on a remarkable journey that has led her to the role of deputy manager.

The former Barry College and Cardiff University student completed her nursing degree while working at the home and went on to become a floor manager before landing her latest post.

Emma believes she was always destined to work in the care industry due to her life at home growing up.

She explained: “I didn’t really know at the time what I wanted to do when I took the job. My younger sister Heather has Down Syndrome so my mum has always cared for her.

“I helped my mum out quite a lot, she was a single parent for a long time, supporting my mum was what drew me into the care sector.

“The home put me through my NVQ and after that I found my passion – to learn more. I just love learning!

“I spent two years in college, whilst still working full time and then worked here part time while I did my three year university degree.

“I’m at uni again at the moment doing the step up to management course – the learning never ends!”

“I’ve loved taking on the role of deputy manager and I’ve learned so much already in the space of eight months.

“The satisfaction you get from helping people you just can’t describe that feeling, you can’t beat it.

“Just to make that difference to somebody and make them smile is amazing. “

College Fields has praised Emma’s dedication and professionalism to her role and this was exemplified by how she juggled work with caring for her mum Anna.

She said: “I was on my honeymoon last September when my mum fell down the stairs and suffered a spinal injury that has left her paralysed from the neck down.

“I spent all my days off with her and helped her with anything she needed. The home have been so amazing with me going back and forth to the hospital.

“My mum became one of the residents here back in July so I get to see her every day.

“She’s on a different floor from me and it can be hard sometimes to detach yourself.

“The thing is I know she’s in the best place possible with the best care so I’m really happy. My mum is so positive despite what’s happened.”

Care home manager Helen Randall said: “Emma is passionate about learning and putting into practice what she has learned to benefit our residents, staff and visitors. Emma has been nominated not just by myself, but by many her work colleagues, residents and relatives.

“She always goes out of her way to ensure all staff receive the training that they require so they become knowledgeable and competent to provide the highest standard of care for our residents.

“Emma supports all our residents to take as much control over their day to day life decisions as possible, always promoting choice and dignity.

“Emma breaks down the stigma of what life is in a care home for those who live and visit and for those in the local community. She always maintains residents’ dignity and promotes independence.

“I personally feel that she is a credit not only to the care industry but also to the Nursing Profession. It is important to know that Emma got married last year and whilst on honeymoon her mother sustained a life changing injury.

“Not once has she not been in work or let her current personal challenges affect the care and support that she provides on a daily basis to our Residents or staff.”

Mario Kreft, 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.”