Honour for St Thomas champion Suzette Thomas
Businesswoman recognised for care services by the mayor of London Borough of Brent
Suzette Thomas received the Extra Care Managers Award from the mayor of London Borough of Brent at the Brent Adult Social Care Awards in November 2022 in the UK.

Honour and pride are two words that can be used to sum up Suzette Thomas's mood after her most recent feat.

Hailing from Soho District, St Thomas, the outstanding businesswoman received the Extra Care Managers Award from the mayor of London Borough of Brent at the Brent Adult Social Care Awards in November 2022 in the United Kingdom.

The award celebrates the outstanding achievements of the social work superheroes who dedicate their lives to helping those in need.

"This was particularly rewarding since I've been delivering care services across the London Borough of Brent for over 20 years. It was a honour to be nominated by my peers and I was happy to be a part of a team that was making enormous changes to the life of the people that we look after in those communities. My mother was right there with me and I accepted that award in her honour," Thomas told the Jamaica Observer.

Thomas said she and her team worked assiduously throughout the early, critical stages of the pandemic to help with hospital discharge teams to ensure that people remained safe at home, while also making sure her staff was safe and felt valued.

"...And the award came right at the end of the pandemic so it felt even more rewarding. I was nominated alongside several care managers and it was exciting to hear my name announced as the winner. I wasn't even aware that I was shortlisted until my assistant sent an e-mail asking for a bio from me. It was an amazing event and I'm honoured to have been chosen for that award."

Growing up in Soho District, Thomas was the oldest girl of six siblings, whom she said she learned to mother from a very young age.

Around age 15, her mother migrated to the UK while she was still at Elim Agricultural Boarding School in St Elizabeth, which was renamed in 2005 to the Sydney Pagon Agricultural High School. Three years later, she joined her mother in the UK.

"I have been travelling back and forth since then, but Jamaica was always home. I had to learn to adjust real quick. Everything was more structured and it became a lot like all work and no play. Back then, it was about learning to work hard and studying real hard to achieve my goals," she told the Sunday Observer.

"My father died at an early age, and so oftentimes, I would help my mother to bring up my younger sisters. My mother worked hard to provide for her children and education meant a lot to her. We all understood that assignment from an early age. My sister became a lawyer and it was my mother's wish for me to be a doctor."

Thomas, who refers to herself as a "daughter and a very active aunty", earned a degree in biochemistry and physiology at the University of Westminster in London, and then continued with a master's degree in human genetics and primary care from the Imperial College of Medicine.

She was then employed in health-care as a risk assessor and did another master's in health ergonomics and primary care as part of her job role requirement.

"When I entered the health and social care sector in 2003, I started out as an ergonomics back care advisor to the health sector, having just graduated from university. I remember working as a moving and handling trainer and studying to complete my Master's at the age of 25. So, I had to work, study and juggle those roles for a while. I had a boss who was not sympathetic to student life, so I had to work triple hard to ensure I got through school," she told the Sunday Observer.

Reflectively, Thomas noted that there were several factors that made her journey a bumpy one, but nothing she couldn't overcome.

"I had taken loans to finance my education, and had small savings from which I started the business. The care business has directly been impacted by the pandemic and staffing levels were very low. This began to have an impact on the health and social care sector," she said.

"I attended a seminar that was geared towards overseas recruitment for shortages in the care sector and so, we are currently here in Jamaica on a recruitment drive for health-care givers from overseas to help with our care delivery."

But the journey to this point, Thomas added, started from an idea of operating a home care business that popped up while she was working in the National Health Service.

At this time, she said she identified a "niche market" to provide community-based support for children and families with special needs.

"I started out on my own by renting a small office space in North London, to have now extended to owning and operating six branches in London areas. I then operated my own health-care training facility and ran training courses on moving and handling patients and load to prepare staff for working in health and social care settings, Thomas told the Sunday Observer.

Within the next few years, Thomas hopes to be fully established as a solid contributor to the international home care sector for Canada, UK and Jamaica.

"My motivation is that I don't know how to fail. I just keep trying and I love a new challenge. My life is about how God uses me and will continue to use me to change the lives of others."

Back in 2012, Thomas was nominated for the National Bakery BOLD ONES Award in Jamaica as the director of Sue Tru Caribbean Manufacturing and Distribution.

"This was particularly dear to me as it was an honour to be recognised for work in my parish of St Thomas where I spent most of my early life. Receiving the mayor's award late last year was particularly dear to my heart as it was from my own community where I had lived when I first came to London," she said.

Thomas shared that her family has been "very supportive" from the outset. Her mother, she said, is the backbone of the family. She also hails from a nursing background.

"I feel like my inspiration to operate a care business is a direct trait from my mother. She is passionate about caring for others, loves to dress a cut, rub up with Vicks and put a plaster on everything. My sister is also a nurse and my grandmother also worked in health-care, so I guess caring is a family business.

"I am supported by my friends and family throughout this journey and having been in the care sector for so long, my team has become like part of my family. I have provided care services for children from age five up until now, and it's always a pleasure to see them striving and enjoying life. I love providing care for the elderly and I always aspire to provide care services that exceed my clients' expectations so that they can enjoy a better quality of life, just like how I would want my own mother to be cared for," Thomas said.

Romardo Lyons

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