Ever since witnessing the difference occupational therapists made at her mum’s nursery when she was a little girl, Gemma Carr knew exactly what she wanted to do in life. Housing Digital caught up with Gemma, now a senior occupational therapist at Grand Union, to find out more about her career and her passion
Gemma, give us an overview of your role at Grand Union.
I’m one of two occupational therapists at Grand Union, and I started my role at Grand Union two years ago. It’s the first housing association I’ve worked for, so I still feel like I’m learning lots every day.
How did you get into occupational therapy?
When the occupational therapists attended my mum’s nursery, I was fascinated. With a curious mind, I asked them a lot of questions. They explained their roles in detail and that was where my interest in occupational therapy began.
I loved to be around children, so knew I wanted to work in childcare. The role of an occupational therapist struck a chord with me, as I knew the profound impact they can have on children’s lives – particularly those with disabilities and chronic conditions. Funnily enough, I did a career options survey at school and my suggested future role was that of an occupational therapist!
My aspirations were put on hold as a teenager, as my family relocated to Tenerife. But, in my mid-twenties I enrolled on an occupational therapy course at Coventry University and soon qualified.
My first role was exactly what I wanted, working for a children’s service in Hinckley. But, as the years passed, I realised I could broaden my experience by helping adults too; I worked for local authorities, supporting people of all ages.
What does your job entail?
In the initial assessment, I get a feel for the customer’s needs. We support a wide range of individuals and their families – from those with autism, to those who are paralysed. We talk through their medical conditions and how it affects them, before visiting their property to work out how we can improve independence, mobility and wellbeing at home.
Once we’ve highlighted problematic areas in the home, we devise a plan and work with surveyors to implement home adaptations. The changes are categorised as simple work, such as the installation of handrails or adapting the height of the toilet seat, and major work – including installing stair and through-floor lifts and creating wet rooms. Occasionally, we build unique extensions and covert downstairs rooms, aiding people’s independence.
We do everything we can to keep customers in their homes, rather than relocate them to other properties but, as a last resort, we have a Relocations Team on hand to help us find the perfect property for an individual.
There’s a great sense of teamwork at Grand Union and flexibility to learn and develop. We’re financially very stable – we have our own budgets irrespective of government funding. This means we have the freedom to go above and beyond for our customers, implementing tailored adaptations for every individual, without strict financial restrictions.
Why do you like working for Grand Union?
By working with a range of teams within Grand Union, I can be part of a project from start to finish – something I never experienced in previous roles.
Seeing the end-product is exciting, knowing the difference the adaptations have made to people’s lives. Along the way, I build fantastic relationships with customers – they’re always so grateful of the help they receive.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
At any given time, I’m often working with children with ADHD, cerebral palsy and autism, alongside adults who have suffered a stroke or life-changing injuries.
I will never forget a family I helped recently; specifically, a young girl, Courtney, who was born with Bardet Biedl Syndrome – a genetic condition resulting in reduced mobility, obesity and learning difficulties.
We worked with the family and our surveyors to complete major adaptions – including installing a wet room and a wash toilet, so Courtney could wash and go to the toilet independently, without her mum’s help.
We also built an extension, within just months, so Courtney had her own living space – a sensory room to help her unwind and process her emotions. The difference it made to Courtney and her family has been incredible and examples like that make me so proud to do what I do.
Being an occupational therapist is extremely rewarding but can also be very challenging. I’m a sensitive soul and wear my heart on my sleeve – there have been times when I am almost moved to tears, seeing what people are going through.
Still, I wake up each day knowing I’m making a huge difference to people’s lives and fulfilling my childhood dream, and that makes the challenges especially worthwhile.
Image: Grand Union senior occupational therapist Gemma Carr chats with customers
Grand Union’s dedicated occupational therapist service provides adaptations and assistance services to customers living with chronic conditions, disabilities, and mobility issues.
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