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Have you ever been promoted several times in the same company – without ever actually applying for a promotion?

That’s the career story of Shirley Hulley, who’s the Registered Manager of Church View, a supported living service in Sunderland.

Part of Shirley’s success in support can be summarised with the following steps:

  • Start an entry-level job
  • Get noticed by managers for working at a higher level
  • Get promoted
  • Repeat steps above

Let’s start at the beginning of Shirley’s success story. Back in 2008, Shirley’s children were growing up, and needed less support. 

While Shirley had no desire to work in support at that time, she took up a part-time role – 24 hours a week – as a laundry assistant in a local care home for older people.

“In the morning, I’d drop my children off at school and then go to the care home to do my laundry work, and be finished by about 1-2 o'clock,” she recalls. “It was convenient.”

Change of heart

Yet after working at the care home for a while, Shirley had a change of heart.

“By chance, I found myself spending time with people who lived there, and really enjoying assisting them, even just sitting with them at lunch.”

After surprising herself at how much she enjoyed supporting others, Shirley found a job in another care home for older people, this time as a care assistant.

Several years later, in 2012, Shirley became a senior care assistant, which meant she now put together care plans, and liaised with health professionals.

Three years later, Shirley was promoted to be a unit manager, which meant she oversaw several colleagues. Around the same time, Shirley decided to complete a Level 5 diploma in health and social care.

Getting her diploma took Shirley three years, because she moved jobs half-way through to work at another care home, run by another provider.

In her new job, Shirley was offered a position as deputy manager, but turned it down as it wasn’t quite right for her.

Then, last year, changing personal circumstances led Shirley to take a step back in her career. She applied for a part-time role as a support worker at Church View, a Lifeways supported living service in Sunderland.

In for a surprise

Starting her role at Lifeways, Shirley was in for a surprise. The younger adults Shirley was now supporting enjoyed a higher level of independence than the older people she’d supported with previous providers.

The lower levels of support needed meant Shirley found herself a lot less busy than she had expected – and she began seeking additional tasks to take on.

“In earlier roles, I was used to being hands-on and doing everything,” said Shirley, recalling past jobs.

Church View’s wider management quickly noticed Shirley’s work ethic – and what followed was a quick-fire succession of promotions.

Within two weeks of starting as a support worker, Shirley was promoted to be a team leader at the service.

Then, just months later, Shirley was promoted to become Church View’s Registered Manager.


Shirley admits that her trajectory at Lifeways – going from strength to strength, without any active attempt to grow her career – resembles the journey taken by Tom Hanks’ titular character in the 1994 hit film Forrest Gump.

Yet Shirley’s achievements speak for themselves.

Looking back, in her 14 years in the sector, how many promotions has Shirley applied for?

“None,” says Shirley - with the sole exception of a single promotion, which she requested but didn’t end up getting.

Contrarian approach

Instead, Shirley says, she unintentionally adopted a contrarian approach to climbing the career ladder.

“Previous managers had said ‘will you step up?’ And I would say, ‘no, you don't want me doing that,’” adds Shirley.

“Me being promoted was more down to other people choosing to promote me, saying ‘Shirley, you need to do this. You're doing the job anyway.’”

Shirley believes that success in support comes down to constantly being willing to learn.

“You’ve got to be constantly training and educating yourself, and being methodical to solve problems. You’ve got to be hands-on,” she says. “And you’ve got to be aware of everything that's going on in the service.”

Thanks for sharing your story, Shirley!


About Church View:

Church View is a Lifeways supported living service in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear.

The service supports adults with learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities and acquired brain injuries.

Made of 12 purpose-built apartments and 12 accessible bungalows, each with access to a shared garden, Church View offers individuals the best of both worlds: support when needed and independence when desired.

About Lifeways:

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

We support adults with diverse and complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions. 

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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