Sixty-three year old Hilary works with elderly people with a range of health conditions, supporting them to stay in their own home. A mother and a grandmother, Hilary started working as a carer when her children were young because the hours fitted well around school. She began as a pot washer in a local residential home, and this was her first step in a lifelong career in social care. Hilary has worked for Mencap and in social services teams run by the Local Authority. Two years ago she graduated from Open University with a BA Hons degree in Social Policy and Psychology.

After a period of stress and ill health, Hilary has recently returned to work and is kindly sharing her story with us, in the hope that it could inspire other people in a similar situation.

“There is so much about work that I love. So much that I get from it. I have often tried to analyse what it is that makes me do what I do, because let’s face it, it isn’t the easiest career path! I think it comes down to two things: I like people and I want to help people.”

Hilary Sparkes

“When you have spent your whole life caring for other people, whether it is your children, your relatives or through work, it’s not uncommon to miss signs of your own ill health. I remember that I was struggling at work when I first started to get poorly. I remember my doctor asking how I was. Everything just spilled out. I was emotionally and physically exhausted and for the first time in my life – I couldn’t be the carer anymore. I needed help.

“Being out of work did not come easily to me. Apart from anything else, it was difficult financially. So, finding a new employer whose ethos I align with and who I can work for in a way that suits my own strengths and values has been a big relief.

“The care provider I work for now has a policy that they won’t spend less than an hour in someone’s home. A lot of places provide a service where they will just nip in somewhere for 15 minutes at lunch or at bedtime, but how on earth can you get to know someone and support them well in 15 minutes? The time I spend with the people I support is all about helping them to live better in their home. I do it because I believe this is the best way I can help them. I know they are getting what they need from me, and I am getting something from it too. I get to spend time with people who have experienced things beyond my wildest dreams. People who have lived lives that you might only read about in a history book. People who have had jobs that don’t exist anymore. I feel that all too often we disregard the experience of older people in our society. We lump them together in a ball of grey and treat them like there is nothing more we can learn from them. Every person I meet through work is unique and interesting and it is a privilege for me to spend time with them in this way.”

Finding the right role in the right organisation has given Hilary back the financial freedom that she was missing whilst out of work. But this isn’t where the value starts and ends. Through work, Hilary is supporting other people to live well; caring for them, advocating for them, and perhaps most importantly, enjoying spending time with them. The work Hilary does is rewarding people far beyond her inner circle, in ways that can’t be measured but which we all benefit from.