Linda set for starring role at awards

An inspirational social care pioneer is in the running to win a top award.

Mother of three Linda Jones, from Blaenau Ffestiniog, is a finalist in the prestigious Wales Care Awards.

The slate quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog has long been renowned for its community spirit.

She established the aptly-named company, Seren Ffestiniog, in 1996 to provide care, jobs and a future for those with learning difficulties.

From that humble beginning with just two employees and helped with a grant of £5,000, it has grown to a caring business looking after 34 people with learning difficulties with 52 full time employees.

Mrs Jones, 62, was guided by the vision that local people should not have to travel out of the area to find activities to meet their needs.

She explained: “They were being bussed out at 8am and coming back by early evening and I thought they deserved better.”

Now, Mrs Jones been shortlisted in the category for Leading Practice in Learning Disability Services and will hear her fate at a glittering ceremony at Cardiff City Hall on October 21. The award is sponsored by Mental Health Care.

“Our policy has always been to do what the community wants,” she says. And the greatest reward she finds is in the smile of one of the people whose lives are being made better. “However ‘down’ you may feel when you arrive at work you have to respond with a smile yourself,” she says.

 Among the facilities provided by Seren is a small furniture business which locals have affectionately dubbed ‘Harrods’ which renovates donated furniture and also buys new furniture  “for sale to Blaenau people at prices they can afford”, a craft workshop and shop where cards and artwork are sold,  and a clothing shop, all giving jobs to adults with learning difficulties. At Llan Ffestiniog there is a garden nursery supplying local shops, including hanging baskets and kindling.

Mrs Jones, who serves on Gwynedd county council and is managing director of Seren, says sometimes people with disabilities have to cope with those who have looked after them having to move on. “But I would like them to know I intend to be always be here for them,” she promises.

She has established a house where four men with learning difficulties are tenants in their own right, able to make choices with the support of care staff, and another three were supported in their own homes to lead a full and active life.

Her latest project is securing an old people’s home which closed recently and turning it into a 3-star, ten en-suite bedroom hotel for people with learning difficulties and their families to come for holidays or breaks.

Mrs Jones was nominated for the award by care manager Adelyn Ellis. She says : “As a management team we appreciate how her complete dedication, hard work and dynamism has greatly changed and improved the lives of so many people with learning difficulties and also the attitude of the local community towards them.

“Years ago families with children with learning difficulties used to keep them hidden at home or babies were put into institutions. Thankfully, through the work of people like Linda, families today have the required support to enable children and adult with learning difficulties to live independent and fulfilled lives within their own community.”

“Linda herself with some of the care staff go on holiday twice a year with the adults with learning difficulties that we support, usually around 26 of us, and it is like going away on holiday with a large family. She has provided the opportunity to go to Ireland, Blackpool, Llandudno and a coach trip to Euro Disney in 2009 was a huge success.”

“Linda is an inspiration not only to the staff but to the way that the local community perceive and treat individuals with learning difficulties.”

Mario Kreft MBE, the Honorary Chief Executive of Care Forum Wales, said the Wales Care Awards had gone from strength to strength.

He said: “The event is now firmly established as one of the highlights in the Welsh social care calendar.

“The aim is to recognise the unstinting and often remarkable dedication of our unsung heroes and heroines across Wales.

“The care sector is full of wonderful people because it’s not just a job it’s a vocation – these are the people who really do have the X Factor.

“If you don’t recognise the people who do the caring you will never  provide the standards that people need and never recognise the value of the people who need the care in society.

“We need to do all we can to raise the profile of the care sector workforce – they deserve to be lauded and applauded.

“It is a pleasure to honour the contribution of all the finalists. Each and every one of them should be very proud of their achievement.”

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