TWO social care experts are celebrating after landing a major award for developing a pioneering staff training scheme designed to enrich the lives of care home residents.

Michele May and Sarah Longhurst have also helped establish a clear career path for the workforce at the Pendine Park Care Organisation at their homes in Wrexham and Caernarfon through a successful training and development programme.

They were working with the organisation’s in-house training company, the Pendine Academy of Social Care.

The academy was established by owners Mario and Gill Kreft who felt externally trained staff did not have sufficient “hands on” experience or a clear understanding of the organisation’s ethos.

Michele and Sarah set up focus groups to get the views of staff on what training they felt they’d missed out on, and also the families to find out what their expectations are.

The introduction and ongoing success of the programme has resulted in Michele and Sarah winning joint gold in the Commitment to Training and Workforce Development category at the Wales Care Awards, sponsored by Ontex Healthcare and Barchester Jobs.

The prestigious national awards, run by Care Forum Wales and dubbed the “Oscars” of the care industry, acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the sector.

Michele and Sarah picked up their award, sponsored by Cardiff and Vale College, during a glittering awards ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff.

“We were absolutely thrilled and delighted to win”, said Michele, 48, from Birkdale, near Southport.

“We weren’t expecting it but it’s lovely for the programme to be recognised and I hope it means we can take it out more widely.

“It was a lovely evening. It had such a lovely feel and it was quite humbling to be part of it because most of the people there are on the frontline and working with residents. There was some really lovely, kind people in the room.

“I think myself and Sarah were the only two together to get an award so it was lovely to receive it with her.

“There was a lot of other people involved in creating the material for the programme so although we were lucky enough to collect the award, we were receiving it on behalf of a wider team.”

She added: “It’s very rewarding for me to work with an organisation that is so forward thinking. They really do invest heavily in training.

“Pendine have such clear values. They know exactly what they want to deliver and that is to enrich the lives of the staff and people.

“Mario is very passionate about enriching the experience of everyday life for the residents.

“It’s all about how we make every moment matter. For example, when we have a bath it can be an enriching experience so it shouldn’t be seen as a task for staff or residents.

“We want staff to think, would they like some music on with their bath. How do we make it a better experience. It’s the same with dining.”

Sarah, 46, from Ruthin, in Denbighshire, said: “It was a absolutely amazing to get the gold award. It was a wonderful night.

“We’re both very pleased that the programme has been recognised and hopefully our enthusiasm for it has come across.

“It was strange going up there to collect the award. To us it’s a group award, it’s for everyone who has worked on it and everyone at Pendine. “

She added: “It’s been very rewarding and exciting working on this project, it’s the biggest I’ve ever worked on.

“I’ve really enjoyed working with Michele. She’s very organised! We both worked together on the initial stage which involved the research and finding what people wanted.

“I took that feedback on, developed the programme and Michelle put it in place. Our skills really complement one another.”

Michele said: “The issue was that although people had the care sector qualifications, they actually didn’t have the care skills that Mario and Gill needed.

“What students were doing wasn’t real and hands on enough. Mario and Gill wanted to make the training real, for them to emulate role model behaviour and learn how they deliver the skills.

“They also wanted them to learn about team work and how to supervise and lead a team. It’s all about personal development.

“We’ve made the training easy to read, fun and engaging so doesn’t feel too academic.

“We call it the Pendine Diploma Plus. When people come in they have an induction for the first six months where they learn about the job and then they sign up to do their care sector diploma.

“What they’ve learned with us and continue to learn supports them with their diploma. It also means they’re trained with person centred care.”

The mum-of-two added: “The training builds up over five years and takes them on a journey from new starter, a student care practitioner, and teaches them great care practice skills, how to be part of a team and supervise.

“It creates a clear career pathway. There are great career prospects – you can go from a student care practitioner to a registered manager. We take you on that journey.

“That is something we have been working on the last seven years but over the last couple we’ve really focused on a clinical care practitioner role.

“It provides great clinical support for nurses and they work on very important stuff like taking obs, checking blood pressure, wounds and dressing, and medication.

“This could eventually lead to nurse training. It shows to people who may not have worked before that there is a really good career path in the care sector.”

Sarah said: “The diploma, the qualification they require, is only so many credits. There are still things an organisation needs.

“I see it as the basic minimum but there is still lots to learn, so it’s down to us to fill the gaps and also develop them in other areas.

“For example with the nursing shortage we’re up-skilling the care staff. There are many other areas staff can go into that they may not have realised before.

“We create the road leading to traditional management but there are paths coming off it.

“It could be a training role. We need people on the floor who can mentor. There is also assessing and of course we’re now bringing clinical skills in which could be a route to nursing.

“The training helps empower the staff. They feel like they’re contributing more and when you see happier staff you inevitably have happier residents, which is what it’s all about.”

In nominating the pair for the award, centre manager Ann Farr said: “Michele and Sarah deserve recognition for passion and persistence – they haven’t always had a smooth ride, they often had to cope with resistance as they tried to change things that we may not have thought needed changing.

“But we have the core of an integrated workforce development programme that threads through the whole of the organisation and is really having a marked impact on the richness of the daily living experiences of the people who live here and making the job far more interesting for engaged staff who now know they all have an important role within their specialist area.

“Staff who understand about the ethos of the organisation and feel able to contribute to improving the way we work.”

Mario Kreft, the Chair 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 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.”

The MC for the awards evening was opera singer Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the well-known television adverts for Go Compare.