Ivan 'Ozzie' Osborne was looking for something new to do after a career in the Armed Forces. Here the former Army Major charts his experience of becoming a support worker for Alzheimer's Support

Wednesday 20th June 2018 was the date that ultimately started my journey as an Alzheimer’s Support support worker.

That was the day, after nearly 37 years of service with the British Army, I found myself wondering around the Tidworth Garrison Theatre at the resettlement jobs fair that was being held for service personnel who were finishing their time serving Queen and Country.

So, I was walking around looking at all the displays and chatting to all potential employers and becoming more despondent as the morning wore on, nothing flicked my switch! 

That all changed when I happened across the Alzheimer’s Support Wiltshire display being run by my now boss, Emma Smith.  If I remember correctly, I was looking at the display boards when Emma stepped forward and introduced herself and explained what Alzheimer's Support was all about. I was really taken and interested immediately. I still had a few months service left so I took a note of Emma’s number and walked away feeling a little more positive as to what I might do once I left the Army.

First interview in 37 years

It must have been almost a year before I called Emma to express a real interest in becoming a support worker, some pre-reading was advised and an interview date was set. The last interview I remember having was some 37 years ago in the Army careers office, I was a little apprehensive to say the least.  I need not have worried though, as soon as I entered the room Emma and her colleague Kate put me right at ease.

I would like to think that in some way at least I impressed them both during the interview with answers to their probing questions.  Not too long after, Emma offered me a position subject to a three-month probationary period.

Building relationships

Although I completed numerous personal development courses in the army, I was not really prepared for the care certificate study and work books I had to complete here.  This was a totally alien subject to me.  However, I found this study very useful in this new work environment and, as always, if I was unsure of any responses Emma was always on hand to offer advice and redirect me.  Receiving the marked papers back from Kate and Rebecca, ‘red penned’ so to speak, reinforced the seriousness of the type of work I had taken on, thank you all for your help.

So after some very useful shadow visits with my new colleagues Brian, Lorraine and Alison and some introductions to a few families and carers with Emma, I was let out on my own and started to build relationships with those families who required home support. I immediately felt comfortable in this environment and my initial fears of, whether I could be of value in this line of work, were soon allayed.  

Learning that everyone is different

Although my first couple of times attending the charity's Movement for Mind exercise groups were strange experiences, my time in the army had given me confidence and the ability to be flexible enough to respond to different circumstances, so dancing around a room with pompoms to various music such as the CanCan came strangely easy to me!  I have found these sort of skills and more useful in any number of ways, especially being able to adapt to each of the individuals I support. 

The ability to understand that everyone is different and the different types of dementia affect individuals differently was challenging at first but as with trying to understand all the different types of dementia I think I am improving. Well I managed to get through my probation period and be offered a contract!

Along the way I have attended First Aid training in Trowbridge and other online courses to ensure I am correctly qualified to carry out this very important carer support role.  All this training, those who delivered it and all the staff at head office have been first class in my opinion. 

I really have been humbled by all my colleagues and volunteers in Alzheimer's Support.  Even during this unprecedented time with the Covid-19 pandemic, the charity has continued to support me in my support to those who rely on us for a little respite from caring 24/7.  The online Zoom sessions that have replaced Movement and Music for the Mind with our usual leaders Hen, Pash and Frankie have been great fun and very beneficial. 

I have met some real characters during my visits and have loved getting to know them and their story.  I am grateful to Emma that she has introduced me to mostly ex-service men and one lady who served in the RAF.  Having a common start point has made building a rapport all the easier and we seem to ‘click’ straight away.

Reminiscing with Ernie

Ernie at home One of the people I support is Ernie Stott, who with his wife Margaret have kindly agreed to be included here. We have spent hours talking about and looking through Ernie’s extensive Second World War Germany Army book collection.  Ernie served in the Grenadier Guards in the 50’s and spent his time in London on public duties and in Egypt on the Suez Canal as a Vickers machine gunner. As you can imagine we have great chats about his experiences back then. 

Ernie loved going along to the movement classes so I put together a little bag of props similar to those Hen uses in the classes.   Getting Ernie moving in his living room can be a challenge but he really does enjoy it and we have a good laugh together too.

So, all in all as one of few males in this line of work I have and still am thoroughly enjoying being a support worker. I must say I thought coming from a largely male environment to working alongside mostly women might have been strange to me but I think I have fitted in ok and am grateful for all the support I get from the whole team.

When my wife Maddy, who works for Serco, had the opportunity to nominate a local charity to receive funding from the organisation during the pandemic, I had no hesitation in recommending Alzheimer's Support. I was delighted when the nomination was successful and they were awarded £1,000. The money could not be going to a better charity, which I am very proud to now be a part of.

Ivan Ozzie Osborne

Listen to Ozzie, Ernie and Margaret on BBC Wiltshire