Carol Pattenden, 60, has worked at The Disabilities Trust for 31 years and is our longest serving member of staff. The Reward and Payroll Manager is a mum of three, grandmother to 11 and great grandmother to one. Carol reflects on the evolution of the organisation she considers to be her second family, as The Disabilities Trust turns 40.

“I worked with all of our founders and they were impressive in different ways.

I knew Norman Thody, who became our Chief Executive, best. It was incredible to watch him engaging with the people we supported. Norman’s son Graham was profoundly disabled. He co-founded The Disabilities Trust because he realised that the existing residential services would not be good enough for Graham.

Our 40th anniversary is an amazing testament to the vision of Norman and our other founders, Stephen Love and Barbara Besant-Hutchins. They fundraised to create two first-class residential homes for physically disabled people all those years ago. Since then, we’ve evolved to meet the needs of more disabled people and developed services for those with brain injury and autism.

But our fundamental ethos and values have remained the same. The people we support are always at the heart of everything we do. Every staff member helps make sure the people we support have the best possible outcome, and the most enriched and fulfilled life.

By ensuring people’s pay is correct, staff can spend more of their time devoted to the people we support. They don’t need to take time away from their core work to check queries about the things we deal with, like pay and benefits.

A working life with purpose

It's surreal to think I’m the longest serving member of staff now. I don’t know where the years have gone. I remember my first day well. It was 14 August 1989 and I walked into a hot, stuffy loft office with a typewriter, phone and wobbly desk at Ernest Kleinwort Court. I was feeling guilty as it was the day before my daughter’s seventh birthday and my first time back to work after having three children. But it felt like the right fit – a local, developing charity that made working life feel worthwhile and purposeful.

I started two years before we opened our first brain injury service and we were still using paper-based processes for payroll. I realised that wasn’t sustainable and persuaded Norman to invest in a computer system which gave us fully electronic payroll processing by April 1990. This held us in good stead until 2015 when I was greatly involved in the huge step of moving our system to a new operating platform which enabled us to introduce further electronic processing for all of our staff processes and data recording. This was something that I was recognised for in 2016 when our current Chief Executive, Irene Sobowale, gave me a CEO special award. She said that by moving the payroll over to a new, expanded and progressed electronic system at this time gave the organisation a base for its continued development and streamlined quality processes. . . It was such a surprise to get the award and I was honoured and humbled to be recognised and acknowledged like that.

Making life better for disabled people

I started out in an accounts administration role in a team of four, doing all the Head Office functions for everything from payroll to HR for 90 staff members and processing our purchase ledger invoices and payments. Now, there’s 70 people performing these roles in our CSS departments for over 1,650 staff. We’re working with a self-service electronic system where staff can do things like manage their learning and development and see their payslips. It’s drastically different and has improved what we do.

More widely, I have seen The Disabilities Trust embrace and develop innovative processes and technology across our services. Which helps to enable the people we support empowerment, choice, independence, opportunities and to lead the fulfilled life of their choice.

You feel a sense of purpose when you work at The Disabilities Trust. It’s like a family and family, to me, is hugely important. I tend to be the matriarchal figure for my own family and as the longest serving employee I feel like the self-appointed mother of the Trust.

There’s an underlying sense of commitment and staff deeply care about their work, the people we support and the organisation. The Disabilities Trust runs straight through the people that work here, just like you’d see if you cut a stick of rock.

I enjoy my work immensely. It just never crossed my mind to leave because every day feels like a new one working for a new employer, and with a new, exciting challenge. We’re constantly evolving to get the best systems and processes in the Payroll department. I want to lay down some good stable foundations that will hold them in good stead and be able to develop for years to come.

How do we keep making life better for disabled people? We continue to do the excellent work as we have been doing over the last 40 years, we will never compromise our standards or values and we will continue to enable the best possible quality and outcomes for the people we support lives.

Today’s staff are the temporary guardians of The Disabilities Trust and we need to continue practising our values and ethos to remain at the very top of excellence. Then, like our founders, we’ll leave an amazing legacy for the generations to come who will continue to support more people and help them to achieve the life and ambitions that they choose.”