‘I just love looking after people’ – the award-winning Sheffield carer who changed careers to discover his true calling

An award-winning carer who made a career change in his late 40s says he has ‘no regrets’ and that he ‘loves’ what he does.

Friday, 29th March 2019, 4:10 pm
Updated Friday, 29th March 2019, 4:13 pm
Sheffield carer James Irving

James ‘Jim’ Irving, aged 61, spent 27 years as a thermal heating engineer – or lagger – before turning his attention to what he now sees as his true calling.

Since making the big change 15 years ago, Jim has won numerous awards for the quality of his work as well as for training he provides colleagues on the importance of dignity.

Sheffield carer James Irving

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And he says he now hopes to be an ambassador for his profession, his city and men in general in a career still largely dominated by women.

“Looking after people is just something that I love,” he said.

“It is not about the money – although you do need to work for a wage.

“It is about making a difference to people’s lives.”

Sheffield carer James Irving

The training Jim provides focuses on the importance of dignity, but he begins by simply getting people to talk about what they love.

He then uses people’s reactions to hearing others talk about their lives to champion values such as listening and respect.

After starting delivering courses to colleagues in his own care home, Jim later graduated to training others.

Then, in 2017 he was recognised as a ‘values champion’ by his employer Four Seasons.

The following year he won a Great British Care Award and earlier this month was nominated at the same awards ceremony for a second time.

Originally born in Leeds, he moved to Sheffield when he was a baby, living in Hillsborough, Burngreave and Carbrook during his childhood.

Later in life he moved to Beighton and then to Halfway, where he currently lives with his wife of almost 40 years, Elaine.

He said of all the things he has done since changing jobs looking after people at the very end of their lives is one of the most special.

“It is about a person knowing they are not alone,” he added.

“People are so vulnerable. Giving them dignity and making sure there is always someone with them is so important.”

This affinity with palliative care, he thinks, comes from losing his dad when he was just 17 and observing the health care staff who looked after him in his final hours.

“I had a younger sister and two younger brothers and I had to take on a fatherly role very quickly.

“But the nurses and the doctors were just angels.”

Jim said there is still a national shortage of carers caused in part by the low wages and the continuing stigma that the job is just about wiping people’s bottoms.

“People should treat others with respect no matter what profession they are in.

“It is still a relatively poorly paid profession but I would encourage anyone to do it.

“Life isn’t all about money.”