A former hotel cleaner who left school with virtually no qualifications is living her dream by training for a degree in nursing thanks to a pioneering pilot scheme at a care organisation.

Jessica Mills, 32, was left high and dry when the hotel where she worked closed down but she applied for a job as a care practitioner at Pendine Park in Wrexham and hasn’t looked back since.

She gained a series of NVQs, reaching Level 5 and did extra training to become a clinical care practitioner.

Now Jess has gone one step further and has signed up to the new scheme at Pendine Park to enable her to study for a degree in nursing with the Open University.

According to Jess she couldn’t be happier and she’s spearheading a drive to recruit more nurses to join the award-winning organisation that has eight care homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon.

As well as growing their own, Pendine are also looking to employ trained nurses and have launched an incentive scheme for staff to try help find them.

Every employee who helps recruit a nurse to any of their homes across North Wales will receive a bonus payment of £160 with a further £160 going to the nurse.

She said: “I am now studying on a four year nursing degree course. It’s fantastic. I couldn’t have afforded to go to university to study nursing myself so to have the opportunity to do it through work is just amazing.

“As part of the agreement I have to remain working at Pendine Park for two years after I graduate but quite frankly, I can’t see me wanting to leave anyway. I’m happy here and love the job.”

Jess, who works at Pendine’s Bryn Bella care home, added: “I’m not sure I’d enjoy nursing in a hospital environment to be honest. Here the majority of residents have been here a long time, some more than the 13 years I’ve worked here.

“You build relationships and I see it as one big family, the residents, their relatives and staff. In a hospital setting I’m not sure you’d get that.

“I’m aware there is a real shortage of nurse across the NHS and in the care sector and Covid-19 has made things worse if anything

“I just think it’s brilliant that Pendine Park are basically home-growing their own nurses. It also means people like me can realise their dreams and get qualifications that might have seemed completely out of reach.

“I really enjoy building close relationships with residents, many of whom have complex needs, and getting to know them and their families. It makes the job special and is really important to me.

“Once qualified I want to specialise in tissue viability, looking at and treating pressure sores. That’s an area I’m really interested in.

“I absolutely love my job and working at Bryn Bella. The training on offer to everyone first class. There are so many opportunities to improve your skills and for personal advancement. It’s just amazing.”

Amy Rowlands, 27, who works at Pendine’s Bryn Seiont Newydd Care Home in Caernarfon has also signed up for the Open University nursing degree course, after gaining a clutch of NVQs and training as a clinical care practitioner.

She said: “The new role of clinical care practitioner was brought in as guidelines changed as to who could give medication in care homes. The training involved learning about wound management, nutrition and hydration, medication management and administration and other topics. I really enjoyed the training.

“I’m really enjoying the Open University course and look forward to getting my degree in four years’ time. My week is basically 16 hours of placement work which is all paid, an eight hour study day at home which is also paid and then a 12 hour shift doing my normal work. I then have three days off.

“It works brilliantly and I’m learning and earning and getting the best of both worlds. Pendine Park as a care organisation just have it right.

“Any new regulation that comes in affecting the care sector and staff know about it instantly and training is put in place. It’s part of the Pendine Park ethos.”

Amy says she chose a career in care after spending time caring for her grandmother and grandfather.

She said: “I was at a Ysgol Friars, Bangor doing my GCSE’s and had my sights set on university once I’d got my A-levels done. I hadn’t really considered a career or what I wanted to do.

“I’m one of identical triplets and my sister was killed by a drunk driver just as I was about to take my GCSE’s. It was horrendous. My sister was one of three that died and another girl was paralysed from the neck down.

“The driver, who they were in the car with, survived and was jailed. But when it came to my GCSE’s I managed to do them but it was a struggle as I was consumed by grief.

“I then started my A-levels but after a year had to admit it wasn’t working. I gave up as my head just wasn’t right and I simply couldn’t cope.

“I’d looked after my nan, taking her for dialysis three times a week and just sitting with her I then knew a career in care was what I wanted to do.

“I also looked after my grandfather who was himself a mental health nurse at Denbigh Hospital back in the day. He moved into social care and retired as a Social Services principal officer.

“Working at Bryn Seiont is my perfect job and I love being part of the team. I’m just grateful to Pendine for giving me the opportunity.”

Bryn Seiont ‘s head of nursing and deputy manager, Ann Q Jones said: “Pendine Park is the only care organisation in North Wales offering this pilot scheme alongside the Open University.

“Care home nursing is very different to hospital nursing. It’s a varied role and we have to be autonomous. There isn’t a doctor around every corner so you need to be up for the challenge and ready to deal with physical, physiological or psychiatric problems. We also take a holistic approach when we can.”

Pendine Park director Gill Hughes has helped mastermind the pilot scheme.

She said: “Professional development within the social care sector replicates the requirements of those within the NHS and social care provides are eager to support this and engage with their nurses to ensure this is achieved.

“Our clinical care practitioners provide invaluable support for the trained nurses who themselves mastermind care planning and provide mentorship for the trainee nurses taking part in the pilot programme.”

Any nurses wanting to find out more should visit www.pendinepark.com  or ring 01978 720242