Each month we feature an inspirational individual or team who overcome barriers to make a real difference in their communities. This month we feature Bernie Smith* who, through her own determination and with the people supporting her, has overcome adversity and is now promoting wellbeing for others through her role as the homes’ activity organiser.
In October 2019, the regional finals of the Great British Care Awards shone a light on some of the previously unsung heroes of the care industry. The Care Home Activity Organiser Award in the East of England region went to Bernie Smith, in recognition of her passion and commitment to providing an engaging and enjoyable programme of activities at Precious Homes’ Treow House. As one of the people supported at Treow, Bernie’s role as activities coordinator is a shining example of peer to peer support, which offers therapeutic benefits for both Bernie and those that she lives alongside. Normally one to stay out of the spotlight, the award had special significance for Bernie and those around her. Jo Rodell, Manager at the supported living service, tells us more about Bernie’s achievements.
Before moving to Treow, Bernie herself had been a carer; first and foremost for her own parents and then, realising that she had a talent for supporting others, as a support worker for people with dementia and in end-of-life care. Two years ago, following a particularly challenging period in her own life, Bernie’s mental health issues impacted her ability to fulfil the role of carer, resulting in a move into the supported living service at Treow House.
As part of the award-winning Precious Homes group of services, the supported living, supported living plus and outreach services delivered at Treow are housed in a bespoke service comprising of individual flats and a large communal area which lends itself perfectly to group activities. Shortly after her arrival at the service, Bernie took it upon herself to start an activities committee, using the space to organise and deliver an events programme, which she continues to run in collaboration with her peers and the Precious Homes support team.
Bernie began her role by planning for the local carnival; attending meetings with the council, researching and making costumes by hand and contacting local businesses asking for donations towards raffle and tombola prizes. Bernie would often stay up into the early hours doing research or making costumes, working hard to ensure that every person was involved in a way that reflected their individual needs.
Since then, Bernie’s passion for the role has grown, seeing her organising days out, craft sessions, cake sales and parties, through to Christmas Bazaars, visits from therapy animals and even a Treow House black-tie awards ceremony, during which every member of the “Treow family” scooped an award!
As someone who experiences severe mental health issues, Bernie’s anxieties previously impacted her ability to get out into the community. However, over the last 18 months, she has benefitted hugely from the sense of purpose and focus that the role provides. It offers Bernie a way to cope with her own anxiety – a strategy which takes her mind off things which may otherwise impact on her mental health. As a result, Bernie has developed into someone who is more able to access the community on a regular basis and her confidence has grown hugely.
As well as impacting her own wellbeing, Bernie has become the voice of those supported at Treow, giving her peers a varied programme of activities from which they derive great pleasure and sense of achievement. While many of us may typically think of therapy as sitting down on a couch to talk about your problems, the benefits of art as therapy, as well as those associated with stimulating activities in any care setting, are increasingly well-known.
While she remains at the heart of the project, Bernie is closely supported by the staff team at Precious Homes, who step in to support wherever required, ensure safeguarding on trips and during activities and help to facilitate wherever possible. Friends and family are also always on standby to help, ensuring that Bernie and her peers benefit from this form of therapy without risking overwhelming her with the responsibility.
There’s a fine balance, but the Precious Homes team has seen such changes in Bernie. This award-win has brought home to her that she fulfils an incredibly special role in life at Treow house. The benefits to her and the people supported at Treow speak for themselves. As the team at Treow often say, “everyone needs a Bernie”!
*Name changed to protect identity.