Marion (PA): You may have heard of Fettercairn where I live. It is often mentioned on BBC Scotland’s travel reports during the winter as the Banchory to Fettercairn road is regularly blocked by snow – such is the reality of rural living! About two years ago, suddenly and unexpectedly I had to rethink what I would do for a living. I had worked for many years for a business based in the neighbouring town of Laurencekirk. The business ran a haberdashery shop and small factory which embroidered badges onto uniforms. Many of our customers were related to the oil industry and sadly, as a result of the downturn, the business folded and the staff were made redundant. I really enjoyed the job and I had great colleagues so this came as a bit of a shock. Living in such a rural community means that jobs are in short supply so this was a worrying time. While I was searching for jobs I came across Cornerstone SDS Aberdeenshire who were advertising a number of PA jobs on behalf of people in the local area. I had not realised that such jobs existed, but having given it some thought I decided to give it a try. My first job was with a lady called Louise. We hit it off right away and she loved a bit of ‘banter.’ Although my remit was primarily to provide personal support, over time, I was able to gently encourage her to do small things to rebuild her confidence. Sadly she died, but the experience of working for Louise made me realise what a rewarding job being a PA could be. Within weeks I had other work and I am now a very busy PA as I work for four different people, undertaking a wide variety of tasks. I am one of four PAs working for Duncan who lives in a local sheltered housing complex a few minutes from my home. Due to Duncan’s complex needs, two PAs work together on a rota basis and I do several shifts a week for him. To ensure that we are supporting Duncan at the critical times he requires, I sometimes have to do split shifts, which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, but because I live so close to his home I don’t find it to be a problem. My main tasks are personal support and some housework. Duncan does not really like going out, but he enjoys a conversation and like Louise, we enjoy the ‘banter’ and having a laugh. I work once a fortnight for Brenda who lives in Catterline, supporting her to travel to Aberdeen to go shopping or for a social activity of her choice. Last week we ended up in Peterhead prison – no we weren’t in trouble, Brenda just wanted to visit the museum there! She really enjoys the social side of having a coffee or lunch and a chat. Like all the people I work for, I enjoy her company. With Brenda it doesn’t seem like work. Another PA supports Brenda on alternate weeks and we cover for each other’s holidays so that Brenda’s weekly service is maintained. I heard about Dorothy through a friend. She had just lost her husband and felt isolated. Because of what I have learned through working for all my employers, I actually told Dorothy about Self-directed Support. She applied and opted for a direct payment and I now work for her. I support her once a week to go shopping and I provide transport to and from a craft club which she really enjoys. Jane* has Dementia and is my most recent employer. She requires 24 hour care with funding shared by the local authority and family. I work for Jane two days a week and will also do occasional sleepovers if the PAs who provide the regular night cover are ill or on holiday.
Jane has a senior PA who coordinates and organises the PA rotas. The shifts are long, from 9am – 7pm, but this best suits Jane’s needs as she responds well to having that consistency. Building a relationship with Jane has been so important because now that trust has been established I am able to provide, in particular, the personal support that she was reticent to allow me and the other PAs to help her with before now. We have good conversations about memories of her life. I just take her lead in the things she wants to talk about. As I am sure you can imagine, there are a number of issues related to working for a number of employers, particularly in a rural setting. The key words are organisation, trust, communication, confidentiality and flexibility. My diary and mobile phone are a must for arranging work and for the regular discussions required between all the PAs. Trust is also vital as our employers need to be reassured that the arrangements the PAs make genuinely ensure that all our employers are appropriately supported in the way and at the times they choose. Confidentially must be respected particularly in such a small community where everyone knows everyone else. Anything said or shared in the employer’s home stays there! Being a car owner is absolutely essential. The only public transport in and out of Fettercairn is the school bus and nobody would wish to travel on that! I use my car constantly both to get to and from work and to carry out some of the tasks required. Finally, working directly for four different people makes being paid a bit complicated. Thankfully the payroll service used by each of my employers deals with all that! Being a PA took a bit of getting used to as I had spent so long in a Monday to Friday 9am – 5pm work routine. However it has been a pleasure to meet and get to know people who I would not have known otherwise and I enjoy the variety of tasks required, except housework, but no job’s perfect! It’s a privilege to be able to contribute to helping people to remain in their local community for as long as possible. If you are thinking about this type of work I’d say “give it a go,” as you might be pleasantly surprised as to what everyone involved can gain from the relationships you can build. It’s all about enabling people to live as normal a life as possible in their own homes where they are happiest.
*Employer’s name has been changed to protect privacy