Staff Spotlight – Sharon Lewis

10 December 2021

Staff Spotlight – Sharon Lewis

Sharon Lewis, Head of Transformation Projects for Adult Services, shares her background and why she joined Norwood.

The bulk of my work experience was at Centrepoint Homeless Charity for young people, where I worked for 15 years. It was a very dynamic environment to work in and I spent a significant part of my career there because there were so many opportunities for development. I began my working life there as a project worker in a high support housing service for young people who had been subjected to abuse or trauma, a role I stayed in for three years.

I then moved on to a ‘foyer’, which was a low support housing service with an education unit attached to help young people break the cycle of no job/no home. My work there provided me with a great understanding of what it’s like for support workers providing services to young people that want to progress their lives but were challenged by their life circumstances such as poor educational achievements or difficult family backgrounds.

One of my biggest motivations for working for the charity was my own lived experience of having been homeless myself as a young mum. The poor treatment and advice I’d received from Local Authorities as a vulnerable young person made me determined to help service users once I’d gotten back on my feet and continues to make me empathic to their experiences. I know from experience that sometimes the drive for a vulnerable person to change their life around comes from the person delivering support to them, and poor support can significantly set back a person’s recovery from adversity.

I also worked as the manager of a floating support service for young care leavers during my time at Centrepoint, working with more than 140 young people to support them to transition into their own accommodation. I know from people I worked with that a number of the young people we supported to move into accommodation during this period still maintain their own homes. This clarified for me the need to make systems flexible – by providing people with the support they need for as long as they need it, we enable them to succeed in the long-term.

I worked at the charity from the age of 25-40 and at that point I realised I had to test myself and my skills outside of the organisation to see if I could be as effective elsewhere. Over the next few years, I diversified in the Care sector, working with Adults with differing needs such as Learning Disabilities and Forensic Mental Health issues, as well as with repeat ex-offenders and entrenched rough sleepers. My work has always been to provide people with accommodation and the support they need to improve or turn their lives around.

When the opportunity to apply for a new role at Norwood came up, I embraced it as an interesting challenge and welcome new opportunity away from leading services, which I had been doing since 2006.

My role is about transforming how we provide services to the people we support. How can support workers help people with challenging needs, putting them at the centre of decision-making processes and giving them power and control over their own lives – where possible and as much as possible. Having worked as a project worker for nine years, I understand that the vast majority of support workers are passionate about what they do and if they are passionate, they deliver care in the best way they can.

I learned from working with young people that they will let you know when they’re feeling disempowered and want more of a say in their life choices – it is harder for the people we support to express that however. Care has been provided in a very specific way over the past 20-30 years, where vulnerable people are prescribed a certain model of care. The challenge for us now is to introduce another way and to make sure that in moving towards a more innovative person-centred care model, that we include our support workers in the process, show them its advantages and take them on the journey with us to better, more inclusive, and collaborative support.

Opening up real choice and empowering people to make their decisions in their own lives, when and as far as possible, is always better. For people living independent lives, our choices aren’t prescribed and we need to recognise how much we can expand people’s life experience by opening up choice and supporting them to take the lead and control in their own lives.

I am so passionate about the people we support and remembering that they are the reason for what we do. People working in service delivery are there to do their job, but it can be easy to forget that for the service user, this is their life we’re talking about. We have to remember that for the people we support, everything we do impacts their lives.

My own practical experiences have helped me to cement the link between the different areas of our organisation, whether it’s Operations and Services, or New Business and Marketing. We can all benefit as teams from working collaboratively and, in doing so, make our organisation stronger and run more seamlessly.

Since I started the role in October, I’ve found the exposure to Jewish culture at first-hand really interesting and I loved participating in the Chanukah lighting at our head office.

I’ve enjoyed going round and visiting services and seeing the pride we all have in our services. As an organisation, we are really well provided for in terms of the types of teams we have – from Volunteering, to Marketing and Trusts and having previously worked for a charity, I was especially impressed by the fundraising success of the #TogetherWeAre campaign. All of that helps demonstrate the impact and the value of what we do at Norwood and to remind us of why we do it.

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