Neil O’Toole – Construction to Care
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 Neil O’Toole from Making Space who previously ran his own construction and civil engineering business.
Neil O’Toole is a facilities assistant for Making Space and works across all the national adult health and social care charity’s north west services. The title ‘facilities assistant’ is a very apt one for Neil, as he facilitates every request that’s made of him – “I do always say yes!” he admits.
His naturally helpful nature and genuine interest in people are why so many at Making Space were keen to nominate him for the ancillary worker Great British Care Award in 2019, which he went on to win: “genuine,” “sensitive” and “caring” were words that came up several times. For Neil, everything he does is all in a day’s work. But his empathy and good nature make him a firm favourite with staff and service users alike.
Yet despite his natural affinity with the service users, Neil is a relative newcomer to the care sector. Until 2011, he ran his own construction and civil engineering business, working mainly on roads, bridges and sewers – a far cry from putting up shelves for elderly residents living with dementia living in residential care homes. But after 17 years of working in a male-dominated environment in the British outdoors, Neil was keen to find a role where he could put his skills to use in a place where he’d get more personal satisfaction from his work.
“I get so much more enjoyment working with Making Space than I ever did on the big jobs,” he says. “And it’s a totally different type of satisfaction – I get a lot of pleasure from doing very simple things, because I can see the difference it makes to people’s lives. Working on big outdoor jobs was anonymous. Here, I’m being welcomed into people’s homes and personal spaces, and I see how happy what I’m doing makes them. People are so genuine when they thank me – something as simple as hanging a picture brings a joy and appreciation that’s wonderful to experience. And it’s every day.”
To the residents and service users, though, Neil is much more than a handyman who fixes shelves and hangs wallpaper. His warm, friendly and approachable nature means he’s a very welcome guest in the homes he helps to take care of.
“I don’t think I’m doing anything special,” he says simply. “I’m just really interested in people and what they have to say. All I do is chat with people and listen. I never forget the fact that initially I’m a stranger in someone else’s living environment, and all I do is treat people with the respect they deserve.”
Neil’s keenness to involve service users and residents doesn’t stop at a friendly conversation. He encourages people to get involved with the work and is happy to spend time to show them the ropes.
“Whenever I get a request on a site, I’ll always ask if the person wants to help,” he says. “Lots of them don’t, and that’s fine – it’s my job after all! But some of them do, so we work together. It could be something as simple as picking out a paint colour, or we might be landscaping gardens for days at a time – it all depends on how much or how little the person wants to do. I get as much out of it as anyone – I work on my own a lot so I enjoy the company and getting to know people.
“And it’s something different every day. I could start off in Manchester and end up in Liverpool or Cheshire, I could be indoors helping someone decorate their room, or outdoors laying paving stones. I love the variety – I didn’t have that working in construction.
“I do whatever I’m asked to do and go wherever I’m asked to go. For me, this job is all about the people. If they’re happy I’m happy.”