Cheryl Nolan – Teacher to Activities Coordinator
Each month we profile a care professional who has come into the sector after a career change and who demonstrates that it really is never too late to care! This month we meet Cheryl Nolan from Making Space who previously worked as a primary teacher.
Before Cheryl Nolan became an activities coordinator for adult health and social care charity Making Space, she had a long and successful career as a primary school teacher.
But as the demands became more about paperwork and less about teaching children, Cheryl decided it was time for a break. At the age of 56, she was in no hurry to retire, but she did want to find a role that would allow her to put her many skills to good use without the constant pressure of meeting targets.
“Teaching changed considerably in the 18 years I was working in primary schools,” explains Cheryl. “The demands became ever-increasing, and the form-filling and paperwork seemed to take over.
“I loved the teaching right to the end, but the volume of work was unsustainable. I became increasingly stressed, which wasn’t fair on my two daughters.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do – I spent six months looking for the right opportunity. I knew I wanted to use my organisational skills, and I’m good at communicating. You also have to be very adaptable in teaching and I thought that would be a good transferable skill.
“I’m good at managing my time, I’m a good listener, and good planning is a priority when you’re in a school. I wanted to continue to use those skills, but in a more relaxed setting.”
Sherdley Court in Rainhill, Merseyside, is a residential care home for people living with mental health conditions, including dementia. When Cheryl heard they were looking for an activities coordinator, she could immediately see the benefits her teaching skills would bring to the role.
“I approach the role in the way of thinking about what the residents would get from it, just as in teaching you’d start with the children,” she explains. “The starting point is the residents – they have to be the focus and their wants, needs, wishes and health come first.
“I adapt on a daily basis depending on how people are feeling. That’s how I approach it from a starting point – what do they need and want and how well are they today?
“Children have to conform to a certain extent – there’s a curriculum to stick to and you can’t change the lessons depending on what they want to do that day. I still have a yearly plan and a monthly plan, as I did when I was teaching, but now I adapt the monthly plan every day depending on what the residents want or are able to do.
“Recently I planned a trip out but no one wanted to go, so on the day we used the minibus to go to a different place – we went to a garden centre instead. It’s their home and their life, I’m just here to facilitate what they need.”
Although there are a lot of similarities between teaching and coordinating activities for the residents, for Cheryl there is one major difference: her health and sanity!
“I was working very long hours in teaching, probably upwards of 70 hours a week,” she says, “and I had no life. It’s lovely to be able to go home and know I have the weekend off, or the evening to go for a walk with my husband.
“And I have flexibility – I don’t have to stick to a curriculum or hit targets.
“There’s a lot more consultation involved working with older people, and what we do is very much a group decision. We talk every day about what we’re going to do, so my plan is more of a guide rather than a strict timetable. We have a monthly residents meeting to discuss the activities people want to do, it’s all led by them. I’m here to facilitate what they want, and hopefully they enjoy it as much as I do.”