When Ray Pearce began his working life on the shop floor of a Worcestershire factory, he could not have predicted that twelve years on, he would be managing a residential unit catering for eight young people with autism in a care home set at the foot of the picturesque Malvern Hills. Driven by his passion for helping others, and shaped by the twists and turns of his life events, Ray took a leap into the unknown when he joined the therapeutic residential care team at Options Malvern View, a transition service that helps young people aged 16+ with autism and a range of complex needs to fulfil their potential for independence. Here Ray explains what led him to switch careers, how he climbed the ranks and why he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.
Tell us about your early working life
I started at the bottom, working on the shop floor of a factory manufacturing tubular components for machinery, with sales contracts all over the world. After six months, the CEO found out I’d been accepted on a journalism degree course at university and fast-tracked me to a team management role. I worked my way up until I was managing four high-level accounts generating £250,000 in sales every week, whilst also completing my journalism course and having the first of my three children. It was quite a juggling act – but one that stood me in good stead as it taught me how to set priorities, balance workload and also look after myself and family.
Was there a ‘lightbulb’ moment when you decided to switch your career path?
I’d been at the factory for eight years and reached the top of the ladder. I needed a new challenge, something that was totally different. Our close-knit family had suffered a number of tragic losses in the space of one year and this changed my outlook on life. It led me to re-evaluate what was important and I realised I wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives.
A friend I knew through the local football club I run suggested I join him in working at Options Malvern View but I must admit, my initial perceptions were that it would involve elderly personal care. I knew nothing about autism and very little about learning difficulties or behaviours that challenge. But I read up about it and the more I learned, the more it appealed to me – it was the idea of working one-to-one with individuals and really making a positive impact on their day-to-day lives.
It was a big leap into the unknown, but I decided to go for it. I’ve never looked back, and couldn’t see myself working in any other sector.
What new skills did you need to learn?
I started as a Life Skills Instructor (LSI) and spent the first four weeks doing intensive training before working with any of the service users. Apart from health and safety, safeguarding and fire training, we were trained in epilepsy, autism awareness, equality and diversity, and reporting and recording. It helped to paint the bigger picture for me and was a great introduction. I “shadowed” team leaders working in the flats and this experience was invaluable – I got to know the ropes and built up my confidence until I was working with individuals on a one-to-one basis.
Have you been able to use ‘transferable’ skills from other areas of your life?
Yes, definitely. I was in the army previously as an Area Systems Operator, and this experience completely changed me. The army was tough but it gave me structures and routines, and the early starts and late nights helped to make me adaptable. I had to take on responsibilities, and ensure kit was up to scratch and rooms were tidy. The skills I learned in the army have certainly shaped my character – though of course the warm and caring environment I now work in couldn’t be more different!
What other factors have influenced your work ethic?
I had quite a traditional family upbringing which gave me strong values. We were taught to respect one another, especially your elders, never to answer back, always to remember manners and to be open and honest – put your hand up if you’ve made a mistake, and if you’re struggling with something, seek help and advice. In my job it’s really important to be proactive in asking for guidance and input from everyone in the young person’s support network – it enables you to achieve the best possible outcomes for them.
Football is my other passion. I’ve been involved in team management for around 30 years, first managing the local children’s u12s, then moving up to manage adult teams. It’s a fantastic way to build team spirit and this is a central element of my role at Malvern View.
Whilst I was managing Malvern Town Football Club, we organised a ‘Help for Heroes’ charity event that raised £12,000 – a terrific sense of community spirit shone through. Involving the young people we work with in the community is such a vital element of what we do – it helps them to feel connected to the world around them and with the right support can enable them to develop crucial life and functional skills.
How have you progressed in your new career?
From the outset, my goal was to progress to Team Leader and then to a higher management role. There are lots of opportunities for staff to progress and this is identified through regular supervision. I have completed my NVQ level 2 and Level 3 Health and social care; hopefully I’ll move on to complete Level 5 next, which is important as I have a desire to work my way to a Registered Manager position eventually. The collective support I’ve received from the team has been phenomenal, as has the quality of the ongoing training – both these elements have helped me achieve my goal in a relatively short space of time. In a job that involves many challenging elements, it’s so important to have the right team working alongside you – good staff make a well-oiled machine tick nicely.
I’ve been a House Manager in charge of one of our specialist residential “units” for two years now. My role is a balance between office-based work and direct interaction with our service users, and enables me to build on the strong relationships and trust I formed with many of the young people I worked with during my days as an LSI and Team Leader. We’re one big team, working together – liaising with our on-site clinical team, multi-disciplinary teams, local authorities, social workers, safeguarding, the Care Quality Commission, parents, families and friends – to promote a better quality of life for the young people we support.
Being in a management role means that I now have the chance to put myself in the shoes of service users and become their “voice”. I can influence the support that is put in place, ensure that care plans are kept up to date and tailored to their individual needs to help them to achieve their goals.
What are some of the most memorable highlights of your career?
One of the young people we support had a big fear of water since early childhood. Together with the clinical team and manager, we worked on taking small steps to slowly increase his confidence. After many months we got him to visit a swimming pool; he looked at the pool and walked around it several times. This was already huge progress. We waited, and then all of a sudden after about half an hour we heard a great splash – and he was in! The smile on his face was something I will never forget – it brought me tears of joy and melted my heart. He now loves going to the pool regularly. This is why I’m in this job.
Helping these vulnerable young people to learn life skills – seemingly little things that we might take for granted – really matters and makes a huge difference to their quality of life. For example, one young person arrived without any independence and we gradually supported him in learning new skills. He can now go independently to the kitchen, make himself toast, boil the kettle for a cup of tea and add the right amount of milk or sweeteners. These steps may seem small but they do wonders for these young people’s self-esteem! It’s all about setting measurable and achievable goals for each individual.
In one sentence, how would you describe your job?
It’s like being on the most exciting rollercoaster – there are lots of twists and turns but everyone is moving at the same pace with the same goals!