It’s the people that make Ashdale Care such a special place, so we thought you should meet some of them! In this occasional series, we’ll find out more about an individual member of the Ashdale Care Community. This month we talk cakes, chickens and coffee with HR Director Kelly Looker and find out what her guilty pleasure is!

Tell us a bit about you

I’m a mum of three, wife of one! I have two boys and a girl, and even though my girl is the youngest she definitely rules the roost.

When I’m not at work, my spare time is usually taken up with taking the boys to some sort of sport – with perhaps a bit of gymnastics somewhere for my girl!

Other than that, I like a glass of bubbly and watching a bit of Friends when I can fit it in. My guilty pleasure is the Pitch Perfect movies – that won’t do my street cred any good! 

Tell us a little about your career background?

I have a degree in French, which usually surprises people. I wanted to live by the sea, so picked Coleraine University for that reason and picked a subject I loved. It was the best thing I did – I taught English in France for a year, which definitely shaped me. But don’t worry I did go on to do a post grad in Human Resources!

I started out my career in retail – good old Dunnes Stores gave me a solid grounding in HR – and I started working in Healthcare almost 20 years ago. I started in nursing homes before moving into residential childcare within the same organisation, where I eventually became Chief Operating Officer – Support Services. I looked after HR, training, admin and acquisitions – a challenging role but one always driven by helping to secure better outcomes for looked-after children in our care. 

I then moved out of the sector for a number of years, where I discovered that to truly ignite a passion for what you do, you have to do what you love. Working with baked beans might be easier, for example, but it won’t drive your sense of purpose and enthusiasm and that’s what was missing for me. But then I met Paula [Ashdale Care CEO and founder Paula Kane].  

Fast forward to today and I feel I am right where I am meant to be, surrounded by the right people. We have a journey ahead; we want to do the best for our people, so we do the best for our children, but we are all committed to that, so I know that we will achieve it together. 

How long have you worked at Ashdale?

I had the privilege of joining this awesome organisation at the beginning of 2021. Having left the sector back in 2017, I had no plans to return – then I met Paula Kane (Ashdale Care CEO) and was introduced to Ashdale and I was blown away. I was blown away by the ever-present commitment of the staff – of all staff, at all levels, in all departments – and I was immediately hooked! Where the desire to get it right is so strong, then the rest falls into place – as long as an organisation isn’t afraid of change, then things can and do evolve for the greater good. 

Explain your job title and what it entails?

I am the Director of HR for Ashdale and what that means is that I have responsibility for the People function of the organisation. I have a fantastic team around me – which is growing all the time – but we have a real sense of mutual purpose. You have to be passionate to work in any role within residential childcare because even if you work in roles such as ours (which aren’t necessarily working directly with our young people), you still impact on the outcomes we achieve for them. We can positively transform lives – and we should never forget that’s why we do what we do. 

What might an average day look like for you?

After I herd out my three kids to school, I might start the day with a catch-up with my HR Operations Manager, who keeps me up to date with what has been going on, and find out if my help or guidance is needed anywhere. 

We then might have a recruitment meeting to discuss our current campaigns. Other than that I could be involved in our Monthly Listening Group, where we have a member of each Home team join us to talk about how things are out there on the ground, bring their suggestions for support or new ideas, and generally have a voice in what we as an organisation do. 

Later I will be working behind the scenes – perhaps on an employee engagement initiative such as our Staff Recognition programme or updating our policies to reflect current changes within the organisation. That will probably take up the rest of my day. 

What’s the best thing about working at Ashdale?

It will sound clichéd but it has to be the people. Without great people we couldn’t achieve what we do with our children and young people. So for me it’s the people I work with who – no matter what role they hold – always go that extra mile to ensure that we do positively transform lives. And I feel privileged to be a part of that and to be part of ensuring that we look after our staff in the best way we can. I also love the fact that because our services are therapeutic and we have our own very specialised clinical team, there is always space to find a bean bag and take five with a cup of tea – even if I struggle to get up from the bean bag! 

Is there something that has surprised you about working at Ashdale?

The sheer amount of food we eat… There are always buns or cakes of some description, which is no good for the waistline but hey, it’s important to bond!  I was also surprised by the fact that we have our very own chickens; they keep Lakehouse well supplied with eggs for breakfast! 

What’s the first thing you do when you get in to work in the morning/or start work if you’re at home?

Make a coffee – I always need that hit of caffeine whether I am at home or in the office! I then probably just check in to make sure everyone and everything is okay and then take a look at my to do list – I couldn’t manage without my lists!

What might you have been if you hadn’t chosen this career path? 

I was on track to use my French and become a teacher, but then swerved into HR. I would have loved to be a vet but well I am allergic to all animals and am absolutely useless when it comes to any kind of medical emergency so it’s probably just as well the world of HR sucked me in…