I entered the care sector in 1997 as I wanted to progress my working career in something that would make me grow as a person and to be able to make a difference on a bigger scale.
In those early days, I had a lot to learn about the care sector and I found it was quite hard to get information from other operators. The best way I discovered was to attend care conferences where care operators would generously share their thoughts and ideas and best practice. It was also a great way to meet people and make new friends.
I used to sit listening to the many speakers and thinking to myself that, one day, I would be up there sharing my ideas and be able to give back in the way that I had received great information and support from others. As they say, be careful what you ask for! In 2001, I was asked to speak at a care home conference at the Café Royal on Regents Street London. I can honestly say that, as the day approached, I got more and more nervous and on the day of my inaugural speech I was petrified. ‘Who was I to tell these experienced people how to run their businesses?’ ‘What did I know that was of any importance?’ were the thoughts racing through my mind. As I went up to speak, my throat was dry and my heart was racing. After about five minutes, my nerves started to calm and, by the end, I was actually starting to enjoy speaking in front of such an illustrious audience. I talked about my belief that delivering great care started with having a vision and a set of values that were actively being lived, and seen to be lived, from the top of the organisation. I told the audience that how could the teams deliver great care unless they felt valued themselves? I shared how we empowered our teams and showed them pictures of seminars that we attended at that time in London where we would walk over hot coals as part of learning about empowerment and breaking our limiting beliefs. I was amazed to find people coming up to me and telling me how much they enjoyed it – and was even more amazed a few days later to receive feedback that my presentation was in the top three for that day. Not bad, considering!
At one such conference, I got talking to a banker and an agent who both operated in Wales and I told them I was fed up hearing that all the information and statistics only applied to England which wasn’t of use to me for our 10 Welsh homes. We ended up from that one conversation setting up the Annual Care Conference for Wales which ran for nearly 15 years providing information and inspiration to care homes specifically for Wales.
As the business grew and we built our first few homes, and bought others that were trading, I realised that we needed to get our managers together for conferences; we had got rid of the title matron very early on! So we had our very first conference with our five managers at a hotel in North Wales where we had training in time management and a coach called Michael Ogilvie, who I had befriended at my first speaking gig earlier that year, talking to them about “creating a positive can-do attitude” where anything was possible and for us to provide the best possible care and be the best care home in the area.
I assumed that all care operators got their managers together like this but in the early days this was not the case. As we came up with new ideas for driving our care business forward, we would share this in the care press and, just as I had learnt from others, I was finding that people were emulating us. I started to find care home owners approach me at events and tell me that they had started having managers conferences or started running internal awards, improved how they looked after their teams or improved or built a new care home because they were following Hallmark in the media.
When we would build a care home, we would invite all our care operator friends to come and have a look. We were proud of what we had built and wanted to show it off. Many would be surprised at our openness and would ask me why I wasn’t scared of people copying what we were doing. I used to tell them that it’s better that they come invited than have to lie and come as a mystery shopper. Also, I knew that what they were seeing was already being superseded with new ideas so what was the harm in them seeing what we were doing. Anyhow imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so they say.
Over many years, a lot of my operator friends who I would regularly meet at events would say that we should have group to share best practice and have a forum to share our problems as most business owners know it can be lonely at the top. In the end, I decided to set it up rather than all of us just talking about it. I called several operators together for a meet up and the Care Club was born. We started to meet monthly for many years sharing our thoughts and ideas and inspiring each other to step up to another level. Out of this many of us, including our partners and spouses, have become great friends.
For some time, I felt that we needed a charity fundraiser to further unite the sector in giving to great causes such as the Care Workers Charity and Alzheimer’s Society. This has galvanised the great and the good to come together to support and organise the Care Sector Fundraising Ball. Over the last two years, we have managed to raise nearly £350,000 from such generous donations and, had we run the event this year as originally planned on 26th September, we would most definitely have smashed the £0.5m mark, having virtually sold out of tables.
There is always a silver lining to every crisis and out of this year’s Ball being cancelled the Organising Committee decided as we didn’t have much to do (!) that we would set up Championing Social Care – to be the umbrella body to raise the profile of social care through events such as the Ball, Care Home Open Day, Care Sector’s Got Talent and the #SparkleForSocialCare campaign. Letters went out for Ambassadors a while ago and we are so pleased with how many have got involved. If yours has been lost in the post and didn’t hit the doormat and you are interested in becoming an Ambassador, then please drop me a line!
I wanted to leave you with a quote that I think sums up what I have been brought up with and seems to have served me well.
The more you give the more you seem to get back!