A singing care worker’s night in the limelight at the sector’s “Oscars” ended on a high note – after he won a top prize.
Rob Thomas, 31, from Bridgend, had his musical theatre dream dashed by major brain surgery at the age of 18 but he still goes out of his way to bring a smile to the residents of Picton Court, at Nottage, near Porthcawl,
His job as the activities organiser at the home, which provides residential, nursing and dementia care, is to brighten the lives of the 76 residents aged 60 to 103, by arranging activities and entertainment.
But recently Rob let someone else do the organising when he was nominated for a prestigious Wales Care Award. A glittering presentation evening at Cardiff City Hall saw him rewarded for his hard work and enthusiasm with a silver Promoting Fulfilled Lives Award, sponsored by Boots.
Rob’s tenor voice is in much demand, particularly for the old favourite songs and he also organises quizzes, takes residents out for meals – 25 of them were guests at a Rotary lunch recently – and arranges other activities.
He will often take a wheelchair-bound resident shopping or for a coffee and a chat and he hold raffles and other events to pay for some of the treats.
Rob loves his job and is a real “people person” having previously worked as a manager for McDonalds at Cardiff and managed pubs.
Music was his first love and he trained at Bridgend College with the West End and musical theatre in his sights. But major brain surgery at the age of 18 curtailed his professional singing career.
He said: “Basically my brain was too big for my head and was causing major problems with my spinal column. I made a good recovery but performing professionally would have been impossible.”
He still worked in pubs and clubs and toured in cabaret shows and he still occasionally performs locally. He recently joined Porthcawl Male Voice Choir.
He said: “I absolutely love the job and I’m very honoured to be short-listed for the awards even if I’m a little embarrassed, to be honest.
“My role is to make people happy, to show them that this is just a new chapter in their lives and to give a bit back to them.
“The best part is seeing the smiles on the residents’ faces when they’ve enjoyed something I do – that means the world to me.
“Care homes sometimes get a bad press and you don’t hear about the wonderful things they are achieving. What attracted me to this job was to be able to make a difference.
“I’ve been three years in the care sector and I enjoy what I am doing. I arrange everything from armchair aerobics to outdoor activities and to see people happy and enjoying their surroundings is reward enough.”
Kath Beakes, of the care staff at Picton Court, said Rob included colleagues as well as residents in his activities. “Nothing is too much trouble for him,” she said. “He is very dedicated and likes to brighten up the day whether by bursting into song or telling a joke.
“The most important thing when you work with the elderly is that you care, a very simple word with a big meaning, and I can say that Rob cares.
“He is a lovely, gentle and kind man who has made a difference to our residents’ lives since he has been at Picton Court. He brings a smile to everyone’s face.”
Volunteer Eileen Torkington said : “There is never a dull moment, he gives the residents something to look forward to every day. We are lucky to have such a caring person who does a tremendous job for the residents.
“Rob arranges all the activities – bingo, quizzes, keep-fit, singalongs, parties and church services.
“He also brings in outside entertainment such as choirs and musical groups, books meals out and arranges raffle parties so we can have spare cash for more activities. He works hard to ensure that the home is full of fun.”
Rob was nominated for the award by Hafod Care home manager Shajitha Augustine who said : “He provides a wide variety of activities from games and quizzes to old-style cinema afternoons and armchair aerobics. He also brings in regular singers and arranges art classes and music for health.”
The MC for the Wales Care Awards was opera singer Wynne Evans, aka Gio Compario from the television adverts for Go Compare.
Mario Kreft, the chairman 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.”