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chris hopkins lifeways

What do you do if you’re a Lifeways colleague who wants to have a deeper understanding of what support really looks like?

For Chris Hopkins, a Business Support Manager at Lifeways, the idea was simple: train and then perform the role of a support worker for a couple of days.

Chris had worked in his home office-based role in Poole, Dorset, for three years.

He enjoys the role – which involves agency management, pay rate increases, funder rate uplift negotiations, and tender wins – but felt he lacked insight.

“I was doing my job with only a limited exposure to what a support worker experiences in their day-to-day role,” says Chris.

To put Chris’s thoughts in context, around eight in ten colleagues that make up Lifeways’ 11,000-strong workforce are support workers.

After deciding to step back from his main role for a few days, Chris began his training as a Lifeways support worker.

First step: training

Since 2020, initial support worker training has taken place over My Lifeways Learning, our custom online training platform.

The online platform means support workers can complete induction training from the comfort of their own home, on a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

However, it wasn’t long before Chris realised what the training entailed.

“The training itself was very good and very in-depth,” says Chris.

“Yet the first thing that hit me before even taking a shadow shift was the volume of training prior to even starting,” adds Chris. A shadow shift is when you are accompanied on the job by an experienced support worker.  

Before starting his new role, Chris first spent four days completing Lifeways’ video conference and online training.

Day One:

With his initial training finished, Chris spent his first day on the job at Rowan Court, a Lifeways supported living service near Bournemouth. The service is a short drive from Chris’ house. 

Rowan Court is made up of purpose-built apartments, and is home to 12 people, each with support needs including learning disabilities and autism.

“I read several support plans, and met several people we support, and then went to the park with two different individuals, Clara and Shaun, and did some litter picking,” says Chris.

Chris worked his shadow shift alongside Andrew and Fiona, two support workers.

One thing that struck Chris was the uniqueness of each individual who receives support.

“Therefore, the range of skills needed to support these individuals is immense,” says Chris.

Chris also noted the ‘huge’ amount of paperwork that had to be completed, including the daily writing of notes to show what was done and medications were taken.

As an accountant, Chris believes that a future paperless administrative system may prove less daunting for support worker candidates with dyslexia, for example.

After just one shift, Chris was already developing a new appreciation for the work support workers do.

“I’m not an especially empathetic character,” Chris admits.

“But this experience has 100% helped me develop more empathy, because you can see everything with your own eyes and experience it yourself.”

Day Two:

For his second and last day as a support worker, Chris spent his shift at another Lifeways supported living service in Bournemouth. For this shift, Chris shadowed support worker David, who was supporting Martin.

The three went out for the whole day. This involved an early morning haircut for Martin, a café visit, a trip around a farm, a pub lunch, and then another afternoon walk. 

“Rest assured, I was worn out by the time I got home,” says Chris. “And I only did a 7.5-hour shift.

Chris enjoyed earning the trust of the individual he supported.

“I think I did okay,” he says. “Towards the end, Martin started to hold my hand when crossing roads.”

By now, Chris had better understood the importance of learning all about the individual you’re supporting.

“On this shift, it was about supporting Martin to stay calm throughout the day, and recognising potential triggers,” Chris says.

“I also learned how detailed, up to date support plans are so vital in being correct to ensure people knew exactly how to support Martin.”

Chris was deeply impressed by the professionalism of David, the support worker he shadowed.

He describes David as having “the patience of a saint - something I lack,” and having an “extremely observant and calming persona.”

“David explained he also supported another individual who was very different and had to be treated differently from Martin,” says Chris.


For Chris, the biggest takeaway from his experience as a support worker was a renewed reminder of a simple, yet profound truth:

“This is people’s lives we are dealing with,” says Chris. “That is immense! It does not get bigger than this - full stop.”

Chris has also been left in awe of the skills displayed by the support workers he met.

“I could only one day hope to achieve these skillsets,” says Chris.

“Support workers must both plan for the future whilst being reactive and flexible for a role that is so fluid as supporting one’s life… the role of a support worker really is to go above and beyond.”

Now, with Chris back at his main job, he’s taken on a refreshed, more person-centred viewpoint.

“When making future decisions, I will definitely ensure the outcome of how my decisions may impact support workers, and the associated knock-on impact on the quality of the services we provide to the people we support,” he says.

“This will be at the front and centre of my thoughts.”

Does Chris recommend other Lifeways colleagues trying out the role of a support worker?


“Where possible, I would advise all of my colleagues who work in some form of non-frontline support function to do a day as a support worker,” says Chris. “Everyone should try this!”

About Lifeways:

Lifeways is the UK’s largest team of support professionals providing support for adults in the community.

Our 11,000 colleagues currently support almost 5,000 individuals who live in our 1,500 supported living and residential services across England, Scotland, and Wales. 

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