When times are tough, and let’s be honest no business is without its ups and downs, I think about how many hours, days, weeks, months and even years of care we have arranged over the last 25 years. The thought sends me comfort and importantly the motivation to keep going. One of our Clients has been with us for 15 years this month and my Head of Ops has been at my side for 10 years - and in our industry that’s really quite something.
We are a private, family business. My mother started the company in 1994 and I have ‘not-so-fond’ memories as a teenager sitting on the floor in the lounge with timetables galore in front of me, trying to work out the logistics of scheduling all the clients and carers into a rota in the hope of making everyone happy. Back then, we offered hourly care visits across Hampshire, which is infinitely harder to schedule than the ‘live-in care’ service we provide today. Scheduling ‘hourly-care’ is like playing dominoes, one change can knock the entire schedule down and you have no choice but to start again. You can often be found working through the night to ensure your clients have the service they not only want but need.
I never intended to join the family business. I am an independent, free-spirit, and was never happier than travelling to far-flung sunny climes on my tod, to live on a beach and teach people to windsurf. People are often surprised to hear that’s what I used to do and now, as a forty-something, mother of two, business woman in rural Hampshire, I sometimes find it hard to even envisage myself there. I laugh at my own stereo-type and fully recognise it. Described as a ‘Yummy-Mummy,’ my previous beach days are a far cry from running the business I do today, and my life is very different from the one I dreamed of living. Yet I am happy with my choices and returning to the UK, and joining the business has certainly brought with it opportunities and happiness in other means. Although, I still try to get to a warm beach as often as I can!
I joined the company full-time approximately 15 years ago, and since then the live-in care industry and our company have seen many changes. Visually, we’ve gone from a blue and green brand to our now unique and signature stand-out pink. We have a digital media team (when we started we barely had a website). We used to work from my mother’s house, now we have ‘proper’ offices and a team of people looking after our clients. We have an incredibly strong brand (even though we are small), we focus on customer service and we have a desire to make our ‘customer’s happy – and by customers we mean our Client’s, their family, our office team, and our Carers too!
We continued the hourly care service until 2011 when, as a family we realised a couple of fundamental problems in our service delivery that we couldn’t see a way out if. A lot of our work was commissioned by social services, and as their budget squeezed, we realised we were personally paying to train our Carers to the standard we were happy to offer to our clients. As a business model, this is obviously unsustainable and, coupled with a realisation that we were so busy making a living, we were not finding the time to make a life for ourselves, we made the decision to close the hourly care side of the business. Overnight we breathed a sigh of relief and forged ahead in our new direction; Live-in Care.
The change from ‘hourly’ to ‘live-in care’ saw a natural shift from being a ‘Care Agency’ to a ‘Live-in Care Recruitment Agency.’ We don’t employ our Carers as we don't have the size or infrastructure to efficiently supervise staff and, in our humble opinion, don’t think the constraints of employment are the best model for ‘live-in care’ as it hampers the natural flexibility that the model of care thrives on. The shift brought some challenges as we still very much wanted to ensure the Live-in Carers we were presenting to our Clients were trained and able to do the work required of them as well as ensuring they are stringently vetted and as safe as we are able to possibly check. Over the years though, we have developed the policies and procedures to enable us to do this and to do it well. The nature of operating as a recruitment agency with self-employed carers means that, for the most part, we fall out of the scope of the Care Quality Commission; however, we know we operate to their exacting standards and do even more these days than we did when the service was fully registered.
When Access Care started. ‘live-in care’ was a relatively new concept and there were few companies offering the service. Now though, you google ‘live-in care’ and page one of your search result is literally flooded with options. It’s a worry as a business owner for sure but you also spot that some come and go, some are merely an online portal for connecting people to Carers (a bit like on-line dating), some never meet or speak to their customers even. All are different, and it’s very much horses-for-courses and there is something on the market for everyone. The one thing I know we all have in common is that we provide an alternative for people that wish to remain living in their own homes and not choose a residential care home, and with an ageing population, more choice can only be a good thing.
I’ve met some great people on my journey in the industry. Mostly when I joined the Live-in Care Hub, which is a fascinating group of business competitors who have come together to promote the industry. They are all amazing people, some are business owners, others head of operations or chief execs for their company. The nicest thing about joining the group is a sense of not being alone. Sometimes in business you can feel a little isolated and a bit like you have to face the challenges you do alone. The hub gives us a chance to chew-the-cud so to speak, and therefore problem solve collaboratively. Together we ensure ‘live-in care agencies’ across the UK are working symbiotically in the best interest of people looking for a solution to their care needs.
Of course I couldn’t write a blog about my involvement in the care industry without mentioning the dreaded Brexit. I’d also be lying if I said I don’t currently lie awake some nights wondering if I will successfully navigate the changes that are inevitably heading our way to ensure I don’t let a few hundred carers, around 100 clients, their families, my wonderful office team and my own family down. I often wonder how I have gone from humble windsurf instructor on that sunny beach to being a lady with such responsibility on her shoulders.
My incredible mother stepped down from the company last year and I am literally in awe of the woman who started and grew such a successful business – even more pressure to succeed and follow her footsteps! Mum says in 1994 Carers headed into a home and safely gave their client care, whether it be a bath or a meal or some company; today they do the same but the bureaucracy to get them through the door has progressed existentially. She is not convinced for the better!
So, 25 years we have withstood the test of time. Will we be here in another 25? One thing’s for sure, I’ll be too old to stand on a windsurf board on a sunny beach, so I sincerely hope so!