Chris Hamnett from Wigan is a Personal Assistant and works at Embrace Wigan and Leigh, a user-led charity dedicated to supporting disabled people and their families.
Here he tells us what being a Personal Assistant in Care means to him.
“Pre pandemic, and late one Saturday night (3am), Daniel disappeared on to the crowded dancefloor of our local nightclub, whilst the extremely efficient door staff ‘who were just doing their job’ kindly explained that I would not be entering the establishment that night.
‘Empowering a person to live the life they want to lead is the role of a personal assistant.’ This was the line I rehearsed in my mind as I sat on the curb outside, preparing to give Daniel’s mum an early wakeup call to casually let her know that I was not entirely sure where her son was anymore.
You see, I am Daniel’s Personal Assistant in Care. This means I am employed by Daniel to help him live a good life. He requires support because of his learning disability, which impacts on his day-to-day life.
For the past fifteen years I have worked as a personal assistant in care (PA). I met a young man called Joe on an adventure holiday when I was 15 and thought he was hilarious. When no one was watching he would quickly swipe bottles, bags and whatever else caught his eye off the table. His rebellious nature appealed to me and we quickly became friends, shortly after Joe’s mum asked if I would like to become his PA. My friends were beginning to find work in local bars, shops and cinema’s none of which appealed to me, therefore spending time with Joe was an ideal option.
My time with Joe encouraged me to take on new roles and I quickly became a PA for another three young men, Tom, Haydn and Daniel. My introduction to Daniel was similar to Joe; he was walking out of a Duke of Edinburgh session explaining to the instructor that he wouldn’t be coming back because it was boring (or words to that effect). This instantly drew me in, and we have remained friends ever since. Fortunately, Daniel was looking for a PA and I was delighted to be offered the position.
At the time, my role mainly consisted of supporting Daniel to engage in the same activities as his non-disabled peers of a similar age. We therefore did a lot of what is now referred to as ‘positive risk taking’. In 2007, the support I provided for Daniel was perceived as radical, as his peers within special education were accessing more traditional support options. Employing a PA allowed Daniel to decide what good support looked like, providing him with a great deal of autonomy and control over his life. Whilst we spent time having fun, Daniel also wanted to find meaning and purpose. We therefore explored options in further education, volunteer work and employment. Daniel now works in the local Junk Food Project providing meals for the local community, whilst reducing food waste. This is one of his greatest sources of pride, and it is essential that his PAs empower him to fulfil this role.
When I began as a PA I would have described the role as having fun with people I like spending time with. Whilst my opinion hasn’t changed, I believe that this description does not fully appreciate the skills, knowledge and passion required to do the job well. Being friendly and well-meaning is not enough, to assist another person to live their best life you must be dedicated to continuous learning and development. I know from personal experience that I am much better equipped to be a PA today than I was when I began. The skills you need for the role are often not given the financial recognition they deserve, however, the pay cheque was never what being a PA was about, nor was it the most valuable asset the role gave me. The role taught me how to manage risk, problem solve, respond under pressure and think creatively.
My first time working for Daniel was at the same time I should have been at my school ‘prom’ which I was not allowed to attend because of poor behaviour. On leaving school I was unsure where to go or what to do, the role of a PA gave me a career path. As I write this I have just completed my Masters in Business and manage a charity in Wigan, I firmly believe that my trajectory would have been completely different without the skills I picked up being a PA.
As I sat on the curb with my head in my hands, Daniel emerged from the nightclub doors with very little appreciation for my worry and despair, and said ‘you ready to get a taxi mate’. This is one of many tales from my time as a PA. The job is different to any other, and gives you a chance to make a real difference in a person’s life. Those without passion, ambition and creativity need not apply.
Chris is working with us to raise awareness of the PA role, so more brilliant people choose to work with those who need care and support to live a good life.
If you’re looking for a unique, flexible, rewarding career where you’ll really make a difference every day then please find out more.