Meet Bernadette O’Neill, our Service Manager at Willowmead

Meet Bernadette O’Neill, our Service Manager at Willowmead


Bernadette O’Neill is our Service Manager at Willowmead. We asked Bernadette all about her team, what she enjoys most about her role, and her vision for the service.

Willowmead is a Supported Living Care Service based in East Molesey, Surrey. We provide support for young people and adults with autism, learning difficulties and mental health needs.

Can you tell us a bit about your career background and experience?

“I started out as a hairdresser and then made the decision to go back to college to do an Access course to university. I studied Occupational Therapy in York. I achieved my degree and started practicing as an Occupational Therapist. I found the pace of Occupational Therapy very fast, and I didn’t feel like I was developing my therapeutic relationships with people.

“I managed to find a job in Learning Disabilities and I did a few different roles working with children and adults, including being an activity leader, working in a contact centre, working as a Support Worker, and then as Deputy. I then became Service Manager.

“After this, I was working within a forensics setting which was a Transforming Care service, focusing on Autism.

“There, I become a Proact SCIPr UK trainer too. This role was about supporting people with challenging behaviour and using different strategies and techniques to reduce the likeliness of behaviour that challenged previously. Through the use of Proact SCIPr techniques and helping people to find meaningful occupations (which I think comes from my OT background), we managed to support people into jobs and developed their relationships and friendships. They also developed socially, for example being invited out for dinner by colleagues. We saw challenging behaviours reduce significantly because their wellbeing was being maintained and they were enjoying life.

“During the pandemic I was a Volunteer Coordinator and this role focused on accessing culture, sports, and the arts. Now, I am Service Manager at Willowmead.”

What is your favourite thing about working at Willowmead?

“It’s been really interesting working at Willowmead. There are much more activities going on at the service now and a lot of education opportunities with the staff team. It’s challenging in a good way because I’m seeing the team come together and become more confident in their skills and abilities. It’s really nice when you see your guidance being implemented into the service so we can do the best for the residents that we support. It’s been nice to use similar techniques from my previous roles and to implement them into Willowmead to improve the support our residents receive.”

What are the team like at Willowmead?

“I love working with the team. They are really open to change and embrace change, and I think it’s quite exciting to work with that kind of team. When they try things for the first time, the reward they get from it is really lovely to see. Also, the team involve residents in everything that we are doing. I really enjoy that. It means that residents are leading the service and we’re supporting them in the best way possible.

“I love that we all come together and work as a team, and we get results. The residents are going out and being involved in things they wouldn’t normally do, for example the other day a resident got taken to the barbers. He had the opportunity to sit in the barbers and talk to other people outside of Willowmead. He was smiley and more vocal with us when he came back. It’s so nice seeing people blossom in this way.”

Can you give us an overview of the services that are provided at Willowmead?

“Willowmead is a Supported Living Care Service based in East Molesey, Surrey. We offer support for young people and adults with autism, learning difficulties and mental health needs.”

What is your vision for the service and where would you like it to be in the next few years?

“I’d love to see residents continue to have a meaningful life. I want them to do all of the activities that they want to do and to get as much enjoyment as possible. I want us as a team to offer opportunities, to see people grow, and to see everyone being happy. It’s all about the wellbeing for everyone; finding out what people want to get out of life, and supporting them to achieve that.

“I want us to provide meaningful occupations and get people into work. Things like this are fantastic because you see a person grow and develop. There was a resident here who felt supported where she was working and had strong relationships with colleagues. As she grew in confidence, she started having goals for herself and soon told us she wanted to move out into a flat with a garden. She went from being suicidal, to having future goals and aspirations. It was such a massive step forward. We give people the opportunity to explore where they can go and what they can achieve.”


What do you like to do in your spare time?

“I like spending time with family and friends.

“I like food and going to lots of foodie markets. I love cycling, baking, reading, travel. I also have a big passion for writing; I love creating rhymes and poetry!”