A care home manager who spent his early career supporting children with special needs in America and South Africa is celebrating a national care award.

Stuart Davies, general manager of Plas Bryn Rhosyn Care Home in Heol Illtyd, Neath, set up his own charity after spending several months working with children with learning difficulties and complex needs in impoverished communities within Cape Town.

The 42-year-old, from Llanwit Major, joined forces with a friend and raised enough money to help fund a children’s burns unit in Cochabamba in Central Bolivia as well as erecting lightning rods to safeguard a Ugandan residential school which was partly demolished after being hit by lightning.

After a social care career spanning more than 20 years, Stuart has now won national recognition after scooping a silver award in the final of the Wales Care Awards 2019.

Stuart, who was nominated by Tony Hart, Pobl Care and Support’s Assistant Director of Care Homes, was honoured in the Leadership & Management in Residential Care Services category, sponsored by Christie & Co.

He collected his award during a glittering ceremony at Cardiff City Hall, hosted by tenor and radio presenter Wynne Evans, better known as Gio Compario from the Go Compare TV adverts.

The national awards are organised by care industry champions Care Forum Wales and acknowledge the exceptional work and dedication of those in the care sector.

Stuart said: “I was really surprised. I’ve been to the awards for the past three years after nominating staff and have been through the same process, so I was really surprised to be nominated myself.

“To me, it’s all about the home as a whole and the staff and the residents together. Even if I do or don’t win it makes no difference to me because being nominated means a lot.

“I don’t take praise very well and I don’t like to be celebrated or the centre of attention. I get my satisfaction from seeing other people do well.”

Stuart, who grew up in Llangennech, Llanelli, Carmarthenshire, embarked on a Prince’s Trust scheme after leaving school, undertaking a placement at Heol Goffa School working with children with special needs before progressing to a respite holiday centre in Essex.

The care home manager, who lives at home with partner Alex, and four-year-old daughter Meredith Haf, spent five summers with Camp America in New York, working with children with special needs before securing a two-year internship as the assistant manager of a small home of adults with learning disabilities and behavioural problems on Long Island in New York.

“Working in America, particularly the summer camps, was a fantastic experience and had a huge impact on who, and where I am now,” he said.

He returned to Wales in 2004 and found employment as a care worker for the care charity Leonard Cheshire, working his way up the ranks over a 12-year period. During his stint with the charity, he took a sabbatical, travelling to Cape Town to live with a host family for four months and working in a special needs school.

It was this experience which prompted him to want to fundraise to improve facilities for schoolchildren in Africa and beyond.

“Going to South Africa was a completely different type of experience. The level of poverty and the lack of facilities and resources within the communities and schools were incredible.”

The birth of Stuart’s daughter Meredith, who has Down’s Syndrome, gave Stuart a new perspective on his work and how a positive approach can make a big difference.

“At the moment, Meredith’s going to a mainstream Welsh medium school and has full understanding of Welsh, English and Makaton sign language. In fact, her understanding of Welsh is better than other children of her age,” he said.

“Obviously there are highs and lows. I’ve worked with children and with Down’s syndrome and I’ve seen the positives of what they can go on to achieve. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are always held back in life.”

Stuart has been in his current post since January 2018 and manages all aspects of the 59-bed care home, which incorporates full-time residential care, reablement service, short-term respite care, and step up/step down services for elderly people.

Among his recent achievements is assisting in developing the pilot programme ‘I Fell Down’, in conjunction with the Welsh Ambulance Service, which has established a new model of care when responding to people who have suffered falls, ensuring they are lifted to a safe and comfortable place before paramedics arrive.

The scheme has been so successful it could be rolled out nationally.

Nominating Stuart for his award, Tony Hart said: “Stuart’s an incredibly dedicated and hard- working manager who consistently goes the extra mile to ensure residents receive extremely high quality, person-centred care.”

Mario Kreft, chairman of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “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.

“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.”