A former triathlon competitor who became a care worker just 12 months ago has proven himself a national inspiration after scooping gold in the care industry ‘Oscars’.
James Colburn, who gave up his job as a chef to become a full-time care worker, is one of the youngest members of staff at Three Cliffs Care Home in Penmaen, Swansea.
But the 20-year-old care assistant has proven that age is no barrier when it comes to high-quality care and dedication after winning the top gong in the Wales Care Awards 2016.
The keen rugby player, who used to compete in triathlon competitions and cross country races – once qualifying for the West Wales Championships – won the gold award in the Exceptional Newcomer Award, sponsored by Coleg Cambria, in the prestigious national awards, run by Care Forum Wales, which acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.
James collected his winner’s trophy at a glittering ceremony at Cardiff City Hall.
“I was so surprised to win but really happy and chuffed,” said the former chef, who grew up in Birchgrove, Swansea, and attended Birchgrove Comprehensive School.
“It was really great hearing different people’s stories and reading the backgrounds of the nominees. It was a really special evening.
“There was a lot of competition and I felt really proud to win the award with so many talented people in the room. This is my biggest achievement so far and it makes me want to push myself further in the future.
“My mum, Melanie, was very emotional when I got the award but was really happy for me. It was a big shock because of my age and the fact I’ve not been working here that long but the trophy is already up on the shelf in my house.”
The care assistant has been working in the home’s complex care unit, supporting and caring for residents with advanced dementia, for just over a year and has already impressed managers and staff with his compassion and intuitive approach to care.
James trained as a plasterer at Neath Port Talbot College when he left school before getting a job as a breakfast chef in a restaurant in Port Talbot immediately before becoming a carer. He admitted he found it had to adjust to care work initially.
“I was quite shy and wasn’t very confident,” he said.
“I wasn’t sure if I would be able to do the job but then after doing more and more I started to enjoy it. I got to know the residents better and really enjoyed coming to work. I felt good in myself and my confidence started to grow.
“Once I’d proved myself with the job I thought to myself ‘I can really do this’.”
James doesn’t regret leaving his chef days behind him and has his eye firmly on the future.
“It’s nice to think I have time in my job and luckily I’ve found an occupation I love very early,” he said.
“Some people wait for their whole lives looking for the perfect job. I tried different courses in college and doing different things and thought I’d never find something I wanted to do. When I came here I found the job for me.
“I know I’m making a difference to people. I’ve built up a rapport with the residents. I’m able to interact with them and calm them down when necessary. I try hard to make their experience here more interesting by encouraging them to get involved in the activities.
“I’ve no regrets. I’ve found something now that I enjoy and am good at.”
Nominating James for his award, Marion Reading, social care manager at Three Cliffs Care Home, part of the Careinn Group, said: “James shows professionalism and a maturity way beyond his years in a very demanding role. His ability to create a fun loving environment, together with his commitment to good practice and his sense of dedication makes James a very special person.
“James maintains a very high standard of care and understanding of our residents needs and wellbeing, he has taken the time to get to know our residents intimately, person to person, their like’s dislikes, knowing the little things that matter to them as individuals.”
Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.
He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.
“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.
“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.
“We take our hats off to them.”