My name’s Malcolm McAndrew, I’ve been working at McFarlane Trust for 22 years and have learned so many lessons over the years.
Straight from school, I went to work as a welder in the Glasgow shipyards. I never liked it, but it was my dad’s trade, and trade meant everything at that time. I felt at that point I didn’t really have much of a choice and was plodding along for a while just making do. I was made redundant from that job, and funnily enough, it felt like an opportunity, an opportunity to try my hand at something I wanted to do. I’d always felt drawn toward a job where I was helping people. In the time after working at the shipyard, I ran young football community teams and community groups, I liked the sense of community and support. However, I was still looking for work at the Jobcentre. It was there that I saw a leaflet for Enable Scotland, which was looking to train people for their SVQ2s. That was where I got my start in Care. I worked for Key Housing on short-term contracts for a while, and then I saw McFarlane (then named McFarlane Homes) advertising in a newspaper – and that led me to my career.
At the time I started, McFarlane was a family-run organisation, everyone mingled and visited different homes. I’m Paisley born and bred, so I knew the homes and their areas very well. I was initially meant to start at Craw Road, but I went into Gartmore Road. It’s gotten harder to go visit the other homes now, but the rules and regulations are largely positive. I, and most of the people who started work with McFarlane, were quite raw and under-experienced in the sector. There was a real lack of education or knowledge about people with disabilities in the public in general. For example, when I was first told I was going to work with an adult with Down’s Syndrome, I really didn’t know much about it. Most of the information available about Down’s Syndrome was centred around babies and children, and as such, life expectancy and life satisfaction were much smaller. Support workers for adults with Down’s Syndrome had to learn mostly from the people they were working for. From their side, many adults with Down’s Syndrome were coming out of a hospital environment into a supported living situation, so it was all new for them too. I’m glad to say that one of the adults I supported with Down’s Syndrome lived to be 75, and I know his life improved a lot as the world started to understand his disability more.
I’ve had amazing support throughout my time at McFarlane. I gained my SVQ3 whilst working at McFarlane and that was a very proud moment that I got to celebrate with the team. Although the team continues to be fantastic, and I’ve looked up to them and learned so much – I’d say I’ve learned the most from and had some of the best experiences in my career with the people I support.
I got the opportunity to go to Barcelona on holiday with two of the men I supported, and that was my first time flying! That sticks out to me as a highlight as it felt we had collectively achieved something special, that they’d remember for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps my biggest lesson was when I was working towards my SVQ, I was still quite nervous and unsure of how to handle some situations. I was approached by a man who was non-verbal and severely disabled. He handed me a piece of paper that explained his disability, and said that he just wanted to talk to and be around people. It really opened my eyes. You often wonder what more you could be doing for the people you support, and if there’s a better way you could be approaching their needs – but I think the simple fact that we give each other a human connection, and allow them to be themselves and make choices for themselves is all anyone could really want.
It definitely seems as though there’s a lack of interest in the job market these days for people going into care and support work – and it is definitely a hard job to do. I think people are a bit scared of doing the wrong thing, but I don’t think it should stop people from doing it at all. I was willing to give it a go, and when I started, I really had to learn from the ground up and without a lot of information at hand, but I adapted quickly – and everyone who starts does. You’ll be surprised how naturally it comes. Mistakes can be made, but they’re made to be learned from.
My only piece of advice would be to give it time and get to know the people underneath. Everyone I’ve supported has had unique personalities, it’s our job to try to find them and bring them out. One of the greatest things, when you’re working with someone non-verbal, is being able to make them laugh, that makes any difficulties worth it.
I’d say this job has really built my confidence and my sense of who I am. When you learn to speak up for someone else, you learn how to do it for yourself too. I think I’ve helped the people I support to come out of their shell, and they’ve done the same for me too.