Category Archives: Jeremys Blog

A Blog From Down Under

It is almost 22 years since I first stepped foot in Middleton Hall. Middleton Hall is a very different place in 2017 than it was on that life changing day in January 1996. It has been a quite extraordinary journey for me personally as well as the company since that time and I have to be honest in saying that 22 years of living Middleton Hall’s ups and downs has not always been easy. I do feel that I need a break, so I have taken the opportunity of an extended break. A sabbatical of sorts. With a little research built in. And perhaps Middleton Hall deserves a break from me!

Hence this blog is being written from New Zealand. A country where retirement villages have ten times the market share of the UK and where retirement villages have existed and flourished for several decades. All this in a country that is slightly bigger than the UK in area but with 7% of the population and some utterly stunning scenery. In 2016 a group of leading Australian, New Zealand and British retirement village operators got together in London and it was clear we have plenty to learn in the UK. So, a little learning is on my agenda. Along with some walking, cycling, catching up with friends down under and the small matter of the Ashes.

I am writing this after a day’s cycling in the South Island. Mount Cook is glowing in the evening sun, framed by the patio doors in our accommodation after being shrouded in cloud when we were near the base yesterday. I will avoid mentioning any problems with temperature as I read that Heathrow has been closed with snow and the forecast for parts of the UK is -12°C.

Many of you know that one of my other passions in life, aside from Middleton Hall, is cricket. As I appear to have just about retired from playing it may be time to watch a little more cricket and the Boxing Day test match in Australia seems like a good place to start. It does however involve getting a flight from Auckland at 6am on Boxing Day morning to arrive for start of play in Melbourne.

After watching England win the Ashes in Melbourne and Sydney (at least that Is the plan) and seeing some Australian retirement villages, I am switching 30°C for -25°C in the mountains of Japan’s north island.

I am hoping that this should recharge my batteries and perhaps help chart the course for Middleton Hall over the next 22 years. Although we have accomplished a lot in 22 years, there are always opportunities to improve and part of this trip is about learning from successful equivalents working in a more mature market than the UK.

Bring on the next chapter in Middleton Hall’s journey.

With my very best Seasonal Greetings from Down Under.

Jeremy’s Blog – Middleton Gardens and the ‘3 Cs’

This year we have introduced the ‘3Cs’ at Middleton Hall.

Communication, Challenge, Change

The idea is that everyone is responsible for the ‘3Cs’. We all have a part in Communication – not just leaders (“If you didn’t know, did you ask?”); Everyone can and should Challenge what we do (“Might there be a different way of doing that?” … Managers are not always right); and we all need to embrace Change (the only way we will keep improving is continuous change).

This month, we are updating one of our care services. Lots of the ‘3Cs’ involved all the way through.

In truth I have never quite understood what “residential care” really is. We aim for all our services to be distinctive as well as excellent and we felt that 2017 was the time to re-think what we offer in Middleton Gardens (historically “residential care”) to make it more distinctive.

When Middleton Oaks opened this summer, it left us with eight empty rooms next to Middleton Gardens. The obvious short-term way forward would have been a quick bit of redecorating and fill the rooms as we had plenty of people on the waiting list for “residential care”. But…Challenge…was that really the best thing for the longer term? Could we make a Change and do something innovative that might enhance residents’ lives further? And then, how would we Communicate all that?

Out of the Challenging, Changing and Communicating that we have done since January, has arrived not just a bit of re-branding but two smaller and more distinct services:

Supported Living with Care (“Designed for residents willing and able to plan their days independently”) – a more homely, informal atmosphere for just twelve residents who will be supported to undertake a more active and independent lifestyle (cooking, gardening, looking after hens and other interests).

Hotel Living with Care (“Flexible hotel style care service to suit individual requirements with restaurant meals”) – a highly bespoke care service for 16 residents with generous communal facilities.

A team has worked on planning the new services (our building team has virtually re-built the eight rooms so they all have patio doors and some bay windows, brand new shower rooms and a new communal space) and Supported Living with Care will open at the end of this month.

A good example of our ‘3Cs’ in action.

Of course, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and certainly our new clients in our Supported Living care service will be eating well.

Promises Promises

So we have a “snap election”. Some election bribes have been offered out (students clearly being part of Labour’s target market) and of course politicians on all sides are offering to throw money at the NHS.

Briefly there appeared to be some space opening up in policy terms around social care, before the Conservative party rushed into a U turn after some newspapers used the dreaded “dementia tax” label.

Amidst all this debate (some even focussing on policy rather than personality), it would be great to see courage and leadership shown about the problems in the NHS and Social Care. I fear this will not happen.

Before the election announcement, the government announced a green paper on the future of social care. Yet another no doubt lengthy report that will follow the usual routine. Concerns will be raised about funding, government will feel discomfort about how to deal with the issues so end up playing for time – preferably so the next government will have to deal with it.

The spectre of funding for social care has been stalking the corridors of different governments for over 10 years now and despite various Royal Commissions, Green Papers, White Papers and some actual laws nothing has really changed. The last attempt emanating from the Dilnot Commission produced the Care Act which included the infamous care cap. When the Department of Health finally realised the impact that it would have on the social care market as well as public funding, it was booted into the long grass until 2020 (conveniently after the next election was then due).

And that has been the way of the last 10 or more years. Put it off. Preferably until someone else will have to deal with it.

But neither the NHS nor social care industry can wait. More importantly, nor can older people trapped in hospital beds, in underfunded care homes or receiving inadequate care at home. Crisis is perhaps a rather overused term, but the social care crisis is now real.

Middleton Hall is fortunate in having customers who recognise that they want quality and are prepared to pay for it. But that is only part of the market. Those who do not have that choice are being ill served by our political masters.

History suggests that no government is really prepared to deal with the problem. And with a five year (or less when that is more convenient) election cycle, it is always too easy to find a way of putting it off. So let’s not have more reports or commissions. Let’s have some courage.

Courage for a cross party agreement, not an election gimmick. Courage to face up to the uncomfortable truth.

The truth that we can no longer afford to maintain either the NHS or social care without either accepting that many of us will have to pay more tax or many of us will have to pay for our care.

So party leaders – how about some real leadership? Never mind the election gimmicks and whether someone has the right charisma or dress sense to be Prime Minister but how about someone prepared to speak the truth. We cannot have a low tax economy and high quality public services – especially with something as important as social and health care.

No more vague promises or putting it off. Just be honest with we electors.

Parties and Profit

How do you measure success? Bottom line profit? Achieving targets? Company growth?

Of course, financial results are incredibly important to all businesses but that is not really how I judge whether Middleton Hall is successful. If I ever have any doubts about success, I find going to a party a good test.

I have recently attended three parties at Middleton Hall – our annual Fun Day, Middleton Court’s celebration of 10 years since opening and as a guest at the party that one of our Middleton Woods residents throws each year. My fellow director Lesley also enjoyed attending the Middleton Oaks summer party on Saturday. It is at those events that I really get a sense of what we are achieving at Middleton Hall.

Many staff were involved in putting together the Fun Day (Wizard of Oz theme this year) with great creativity, huge enthusiasm, and a lot of hard work. Their efforts were rewarded with a large turnout and as one resident said to me “I don’t think I have ever seen so many smiling faces”.

Middleton Court opened 10 years ago as a new facility for nursing care clients. I well remember several owners of nursing homes telling me it could never work with only 20 beds (and what on earth were we doing installing full en-suite shower rooms for nursing care?). Their considerably larger businesses were of course cost driven models and what they failed to realise is that there is an alternative quality driven model. Middleton Court was full within six weeks of opening in 2007 and has consistently received very high customer satisfaction. The party to celebrate its 10th anniversary was full of cheerful residents and families pleased that we have stuck with nursing care. Most of our doubters have since given up even providing nursing care.

At the Middleton Woods private party that I was honoured to attend, there was a buzz around the restaurant and much jollity. I was telling some of my fellow guests about an incident not long after the first residents moved in ten years ago. I was at work late one night and walked past the bar around 10pm and heard some laughter coming from a group of residents sat in the bar following a meal in the restaurant. When I put my head round the door, one of them enquired if we did “lock-in’s”. Obviously, Middleton Hall would not condone out of hours drinking, but I did walk away delighted with the spirit (in both senses) of our pioneering new residents in 2007.

Of course, we need to make good profits and achieve financial returns on the considerable investment made into the business to repay debt and reinvest for the future. However, as a retirement village, all that investment would not make any sense if we did not make a positive difference to the lives of our customers at Middleton Hall.

So a good party is perhaps the real test of success at Middleton Hall.

“Getting Better Never Stops”

Although not any sort of rugby expert, I do enjoy watching Rugby Union. The Six Nations has been interesting this season – England’s winning run equalling the world record and Scotland appearing to provide serious opposition. Until they met England on Saturday at Twickenham that is.

England have extended their winning run to 18 consecutive wins and if they beat Ireland next Saturday will have achieved back to back grand slams in the Six Nations. Interestingly though, for most of the Six Nations they have not actually played terribly well.   In some matches they barely turned up for the first half. Despite that they keep winning, which is perhaps a sign of a good team.

On Saturday, they managed to turn up for both halves and Scotland’s new found pride did not last long (nor that of their female counterparts after an equally uncomfortable encounter against the potential grand slam winning England Women). England suddenly looked like real champions. Comparisons with the New Zealand All Blacks may seem premature (beating the All Blacks is not, yet, part of their winning run). However, there are some parallels with the 2003 World Cup winning side.

England won the 2003 World Cup for many reasons. One of those reasons was the drive, leadership and determination of captain (Martin Johnson) and the vision and planning of coach (Sir Clive Woodward). One of Clive’s catch phrases was “Getting Better Never Stops”.

Having previously written about the All Blacks’ values in my blog, another Rugby/Middleton Hall comparison springs to mind.

Last week, Middleton Hall Retirement Village was awarded the coveted “Outstanding” by CQC (Care Quality Commission) following a three day, unannounced inspection in January. Only 0.5% of care homes have achieved “Outstanding”. But Middleton Hall achieved something more impressive – our outstanding team achieved the very rare feat of being rated as outstanding in all five key areas of that CQC inspection. The Grand Slam of Outstanding.

As a result, we received a visit from Debbie Westhead (Deputy Chief Inspector, CQC) last Thursday and also met Andrea Sutcliffe (Chief Inspector, CQC) at an awards dinner that evening. Both asked me how I felt about our outstanding achievement. I said that, in honesty, I had mixed feelings about it. Because I am worried that people might confuse this achievement with being the destination rather than a step on the journey.

You see, I truly feel that Middleton Hall can improve much further and that we still have far more work to do.

Sir Clive Woodward’s mantra is the point. Getting Better Never Stops.

Keep Calm but Let’s not just Carry On

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The current affairs discussion group seems to be growing in popularity – we regularly have slightly more residents than can comfortably sit round a table these days. It remains broadly unpredictable however.

I can rarely guess the topics that the group will choose to discuss each week. I normally select four or five potential topics from my favourite newspaper (BBC website) and the group choose one or two that they fancy having some intelligent debate about. Some topics are humorous. Some serious. Some seem both (Step forward Mr Trump. Ah. That’s no longer a joke).

We recently took on the serious and relevant crisis in care to talk about.

Nursing homes are closing every week and providers have started to pull out of home care contracts. These now include not for profit providers. When the not for profit sector cannot make care stack up, the government should pay attention. Middleton Hall and the top quality providers are generally not reliant on publicly funded clients, so are very fortunate.

I am not going to blame local councils. The simple fact is that they do not have enough money and with the advent of the so called National Living Wage increasing costs it is no surprise that 15 minute care visits at homes still exist and care providers are struggling.

Of course, all this has an impact on the other rather large elephant in the room. The NHS. More elderly people ending up in hospital sometimes becoming “bed blockers”. Lack of social care resulting in more hospital admissions.

When the NHS was created in 1948 (along with the origins of modern social care), hospitals put a few limbs in plaster and whipped out the odd appendix. Life expectancy was 66 for men and 71 for women. Medical care has got a great deal more complicated now and consequently a great deal more expensive. In 1948, the budget for drugs was £30M. It is now over £15B.

We live in a different world now. Once we reach 65 we now have almost 20 years to live. Which means potentially 20 years not working or paying tax but increasingly using public services.

Surely it is time to accept that we cannot sustain this. Which means many of us in the future will have to pay – for healthcare as well as social care. And yet, no political party is prepared to break for cover and admit that is what is needed.

One member of the discussion group is a retired doctor. Even when she was still working, it was clear to her that a free for all NHS was no longer possible. The rest of the group all agreed that people would have to pay. But why do our political leaders refuse to raise the possibility?

“It is not really voter friendly” concluded the group. And they were honest enough to admit they would be reluctant to vote for a party that proposed charging for the NHS. A slight element of turkeys voting for Christmas perhaps.

But surely it is time to be realistic. The current system is clearly unsustainable. So how about some political honesty in at least talking about the reality – and the long term solutions?

The Care Act was never going to solve the problem, but of course was a vote winner for retired people believing they would not lose their savings paying for care and for their families thinking their inheritance was safe. The current generation of baby boomers is wealthier than the previous generation, largely due to unprecedented house price inflation and threatens to live even longer. So it is hardly unreasonable that we should have to pay for increasingly expensive healthcare and social care.

So, let’s be calm about the current care crisis but not just carry on.

Olympics at Middleton Hall

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The Rio Olympics have drawn to a close.  Britain has again exceeded expectations.  Who would have thought in 1996 after the Atlanta Olympics (Britain 1 Gold Medal; 36th place in the medals table) that 20 years later, Britain would be second in the medals table with 27 Gold medals?

And who would have thought in 1996 that a failing care home business in the north of England would still exist let alone be abuzz with sport 20 years later?  Even I, full of ideas for Middleton Hall in 1996, might have been surprised in time travelling to 2016 with what I would see.

A lot can change in 20 years.

The last two weeks at Middleton Hall have been full of great examples of people exceeding expectations.  The Spa team organised a Rio Challenge with medals available for residents from services in all corners of Middleton Hall participating in a variety of events including Samba style aqua and exercise classes, Olympic Rings, Shot Putt and Orienteering.  The Independent Living Sports Day was a highly competitive day of bowling, golf, boules and table tennis and the Residents versus Staff Sports Day …. well let’s just say the staff came second.  It seems the residents, in line with the British Cycling team just practise a little bit harder.

The Rio style barbecue and podium presentation on Wednesday evening after the Residents v Staff matches ended up with over 60 people (amazingly the BBQ stretched well!) eating and drinking inside and outside the Orangery.

In 1996, I believed that the Middleton Hall of the future should be a place where people would aspire to live and where residents could improve their lifestyle.  Seeing residents in all our services enthused in so many ways over the last two weeks tells me that it is indeed that place.

And I hope that the wider British population, especially those at the other end of the age spectrum, will also be enthused by Rio.  Because sport can really make a difference.

Business and Crossing the Road

BHS

 

This is the third blog that I have written since the last one on our website. The previous two turned into political rants which I self-censored.  There are plenty of skilled commentators and bloggers to do that job. George Osborne should be able to safely read this, my third attempt.

I spent some of last Wednesday evening staring at the BBC website in disbelief.

 “Premier League liar…. Fingers in the till…. Sunday pub-league retailer….”

These extraordinary accusations were not between teenagers in the school yard or in some sort of sinister pantomime, but within the hallowed walls of the House of Commons. The opinions of a former Chief Executive about his boss, the owner of his company.  Oh and, of course a death threat.  Followed up by the alleged purveyor of death threats blaming the former owner for a company going into liquidation.  The former owner then threatened not to attend unless the MP chairing the hearing stood down.  (That is the knighted former owner who lives in Monaco for health reasons.  Just a coincidence that it also has a reputation as a tax haven of course).  Then there is the wife allegedly benefiting from a £50M property windfall carried out with the struggling retailer.  Good of her to try and help out of course.

And today the knighted former owner is testifying. More blaming others.

All normal behaviour for BHS directors it seems. The remarkable accusations and counter accusations that took place at the House of Commons hearing about the demise of BHS and the implications for its 11,000 employees and 20,000 pension scheme members.  The worst side of business hanging out its very dirty laundry.

Businesses are designed to make money and there is of course nothing wrong with that. They create jobs and provide products and services for us all.  There are shareholders to reward and bank loans to repay.  However, surely business is not just about making money?  Or pocketing as much as possible in the case of BHS.

As a director and shareholder of a medium sized company, it would always seem important to remember that we are responsible at Middleton Hall for employing over 150 people and looking after what will shortly be 180 older people. We are also responsible for looking after a beautiful location in the countryside and we have responsibilities towards the local community to consider.  Overall, there are many things to consider as someone who leads a business.

Things do go wrong in business. We all make mistakes.  However, I trust that the mess that became BHS is not the image that people have of most employers in the UK.  I would like to think that most business owners care rather more responsibly for the implications of their decisions than the owners of BHS appear to have done.

Sustainable business has to be more than just about making money.

I have always hoped that I will never have to cross the road to avoid someone that we at Middleton Hall have not done our best for.

There may be at least one former business owner who might be crossing some roads in the future.

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Middleton Hall Meets The Haka

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This week we completed the sixth session of some training for all the team at Middleton Hall. I would not describe myself as a trainer in any way, however, I was allowed to introduce this particular training.

Which was perhaps not the sort of training that you would expect to find in a retirement village.

To most people’s surprise, I started each session with a video of the New Zealand All Blacks doing The Haka at the Rugby World Cup Final last year. And then posed the question – how does Middleton Hall measure up to the All Blacks?

Rather better than one might suppose was the eventual answer.

The All Blacks were statistically the most successful ever sports team in the world with a win ratio of 75% between 1905 and 2005 (Leicester FC at the top of the Premiership have managed 60% this year for comparison). But in 2005 the All Blacks lost a test series to South Africa.  The resulting comprehensive navel gazing led to a renewed focus on values.  For they realised that it was not just about ability or skills but about how they behaved – on and off the field.

No one in our training sessions managed to guess all the All Blacks’ values:

  • Excellence
  • Respect
  • Humility

The first is the most obvious. The second and third are perhaps more surprising for a team of intimidating rugby players.  How would that compare with the values of Chelsea FC (win ratio 34% this season), I wonder?  Humility would seem some distance from most Premier League footballers.

During the sessions, a number of staff said they had met or seen the All Blacks when they were staying and training in Darlington during the World Cup last year. The feedback from those who met the All Blacks was not that they were rather large (although they are) but that they were the politest, most charming and humble people.  It’s all about values.

Great People make Great All Blacks” is one of their key selection criteria.  As well as a few rugby skills.

Much of the session was inspired by the excellent book I read on holiday last year, “Legacy” by James Kerr, recommended by my wise friend (another James). An insightful book about leadership rather than rugby.

This is why we have been focusing on values at Middleton Hall. Because it is not so much what we do, but how we do it that makes the difference.  And we also aspire to be the best.

“Aim for the highest cloud… for if you fall short, you’ll hit a lofty peak” as the Maoris say.

Has the focus on values made a difference to the All Blacks performance in the last 10 years? It would seem so – the most successful sports team ever on the planet has improved their win ratio from 75% in 2005 to almost 95% since.  And won two World Cups.

 

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“You’re fired. Really?”

home-people“You’re fired. Really?”

I generally claim to not watch much television. The youngest member of the family always feels she can add to my education and being a smart 13 year old found what she felt would be a Jeremy friendly television programme that we could watch together on Thursday nights when I am, nominally, in charge.

Business. Alan Sugar.  That should do the job, she figured.  And so Thursday nights at the end of 2015 (with a few missed, courtesy of emergency home work for one of us – normally me) generally included an episode of “The Apprentice”.

And, of course, she is right (she normally is). “The Apprentice” is captivating TV and by the time we caught up with the final last weekend, I had become genuinely engaged and quite hooked.

So how does Middleton Hall compare with The Apprentice? My shoes are perhaps a little less shiny than Lord Sugar’s shoes as they emerge from his Rolls Royce.  And my choice of car is rather more humble before you ask (although even if I was as wealthy as Lord Sugar, I would certainly not be rolling up to work in a Roller).

Wandering around Middleton Hall there is a distinct lack of standing to attention and should anyone address me as anything more formal than “Jeremy”, I would worry there was a major problem. The line-up of candidates for the task each week in The Apprentice and remarkable deference shown (“Good morning, Lord Sugar”) is reassuringly absent at Middleton Hall. There is even a lack of hush when I appear.  But then again, I am not known for wandering around pointing at people and saying “You’re Fired”.  I might spend more of my Thursday evenings reading up on Employment Tribunals if that was my habit.

There did not appear to be a single candidate who appeared in the programme who we would actually trust to employ at Middleton Hall.

So does The Apprentice compare with the way any British company is run? I hope not.  And I sincerely hope that no one is watching it as part of their training – from either side of the fence.

Alan Sugar is apparently aiming to recruit a creative, driven person bursting with entrepreneurial ideas. Middleton Hall aims to employ creative, driven people with plenty of ideas and the attitude to make a difference.  An environment to encourage ideas and change from all levels is unlikely to develop when people are openly criticised and critical of each other and the boss is, well, bossy.

Fortunately, Tamsin has visited Middleton Hall enough to realise The Apprentice is purely a TV show rather than business reality. So I am not expecting any deference at home.

But I may well watch it in the future. For entertainment.  Not training.

Tamsin meanwhile is planning ahead. I noticed her scrutinising Dragon’s Den on BBC iplayer earlier this week.  So that’s how to relax people to present their creative ideas….