In the depths of the first lockdown, nurses and medics rightly earned the title ‘heroes’ after they were plunged into fighting an unknown disease on the frontline.
It was their drive to save lives that spurred on millions of people across the UK to halt and clap for frontline NHS staff, carers and health workers as part of an 8pm Thursday ritual.
Rather than just a round of applause or a drum on the pots and pans, former telecoms worker Anna Denton, ex-barber Tracy Mould and former hairdresser Sophie Robson took their desire to help during the height of the pandemic one step further.
All three of them share the same sentiment that life is too short to be unhappy at work and nobody is ever too old to follow their career goals.
‘Healthcare staff just got on with it – they inspired me’
After Anna Denton was sent home from work, she made the best of a bad situation and set up a makeshift office in her spare room – like thousands of the country’s workers.
"I loved my job and the company I worked for. Suddenly, working from home meant no driving, no early mornings and I was in the comfort of my own home,” Anna says.
“I set up the spare room into an office and enjoyed it for the first few months while being my usual positive, bubbly self.
"Then it started to get harder and harder to motivate myself to take time away from the screen. I was not going out of the house or taking proper breaks. I began to feel isolated.”
After the novelty of home working had worn off, Anna felt that something was missing in her professional life, which she needed to change.
“I felt like care professionals were getting out there and making a difference to people's lives,” she added.
"Healthcare staff were not complaining, they just got on with the job in hand. They inspired me.
“The NHS were helping to keep the county going. I felt that I could make a difference to people's lives too.”
With no experience in healthcare, Anna, powered by motivation and determination, fired off emails to Kettering General Hospital to see if they could help her career ambitions.
After an agonising wait, Anna, who is 38 and a mum-of-two, was offered a role as a healthcare assistant and will become fully qualified after almost four years.
‘Age is no barrier’
"I feel so energised, I jump out of bed ready for my 14 hour day full of appreciation, love and excitement – my friends think I’m mad. But I’m happy and that for me means I’ve achieved in my life,” she added.
“I am 38 now and age is no barrier at all. I’m hoping I’ll continue learning throughout my 40s. To anyone who may put age in the way of following their dreams I would ask them ‘why’? There is always help out there to achieve your goals - you just need to find it.
“Healthcare workers are inspiring. They work so hard physically and emotionally on low pay and they don’t always get the praise they deserve.
"These are the people on the ground talking to patients, making them feel safe and comfortable and they make someone’s day a brighter place.”
‘I knew that I needed a change in my career’
Former barber Tracy Mould was looking for a career change – but she didn’t know what she wanted to do after barbering.
At 35 years old, she had been cutting and fading hair for 19 years and was determined she couldn’t see herself continuing into the profession when she turned 50.
“I knew that I wanted a change but I just didn't know what,” she says.
“Then the pandemic hit and I had seen a job advert for an ambulance driver and I thought ‘why not?’
“I passed the first stage and I wanted it more.”
After considering her options, Tracy was also inspired by the selflessness and bravery of the medics and carers at the height of the first lockdown.
‘I have a new respect for frontline workers’
She decided to hang up her scissors at the Rugby-based barbers and after an intense training course she started working in patient transport in August for a private ambulance firm.
“It’s been everything I thought it would be and more. It’s very rewarding to know you have helped someone, made them feel safe and comfortable. The team I work with are amazing.
"I have seen frontline workers in a new light and I have a whole new respect for them. Being in this role makes me want to learn more and climb the ladder to get to maybe an ambulance technician.
"I thought age was a barrier at first but I’d say ‘just go for it, life is too short’. You have to wake up in the morning and not dread going into work - I love my job.”
‘Looking after each other is a necessity’
After 12 years as a hairdresser, Sophie Robson has returned to education, with the dream of becoming a paramedic.
But it wasn’t a decision to take lightly for the 29-year-old, who now has three years of training ahead of her.
She will become a paramedic if she’s accepted on to a university course in September when she finishes an entry-level diploma in June.
“I was more drawn to a career change a couple of years ago but it took me a while to finally get out of my comfort zone and make this decision,” she says.
“When the pandemic began, and I realised as a country we need more people to put themselves forward on the frontline, this gave me the drive to go for it - it’s never too late to chase your dreams.
“So many people have suffered through this pandemic, mentally, physically and there have been so many fatalities. Looking after each other is a necessity in my eyes.”
“I have family and friends who work in the NHS and I could not respect them any more than I do, they really are heroes and I have a lot of admiration for everyone who is willing to put themselves out there to help people.”