Beyond the manor

Most care home managers find the task of improving the quality of care provided by their individual homes tough enough. But seeking to improve it throughout the care home sector is another level of challenge. However, there is one person who certainly isn’t coming up short.

Twelve years ago ex-social worker Denise Denis became joint owner of Aylsham Manor in Norfolk – a 28-place residential care home for older people. The home has always had a culture of training staff; it was a pilot site for NVQs.

“I am dedicated to developing my staff and improving the quality of care both at the Manor and in the sector as a whole, and my roles have demonstrated my commitment to my staff,” says Denis, who has been chair and secretary of two local care home representative groups. She is also currently a member of the Topss Regional Committee and a member of the National Care Homes Association’s national executive.

However, she sees success as being “totally dependent upon people’s willingness to work toward a shared vision”. That shared vision has begun to look and feel more of a reality, especially following the setting up of the Norfolk Health & Care Panel last year.

Sponsored by the Norfolk Learning and Skills Council, this is a formal meeting of health, social care, training, education and just about everyone else involved with the care workforce, that discusses the challenges they face and what needs to be done. Its first chair was Denis.

Inevitably, with Denis at the helm a shared vision emerged. This centred on making all the relevant information and resources available – or at least signposted – to everyone in one place. And Denis, who is also a board member of Norfolk and Suffolk Care Support (NSCS), could see a neat dovetailing of organisations.

NSCS was set up by the Federation of Small Businesses in 2002 to represent the independent sector for workforce development and to “demystify, access and provide funding for training”. The organisation now has around 500 members, an office and four staff.

Although still in its infancy, NSCS has been awarded substantial funding to act as “brokers of information, advice and guidance to independent, voluntary and statutory providers of health and social care, access funding for training, identify training provision, and deliver these resources to meet individual employers’ and learners’ needs”.

So an employer can now go to one organisation to find out, for example, what training is available, who provides it, who may be able to pay for it, and in many cases even to apply for the funding.

However, it certainly has not been plain sailing all the way in a sector where employers tend to be independent and where co-operation does not often occur. Indeed, the challenge for the future is “to ensure sustainability by broadening participation and engagement from different funding sources”, says Denis.

As one of the prime movers, Denis has been making the things that people often just talk about actually happen. As she says: “It is vital for employers to grab the bull by the horns and get involved, using their collective energy to find ways of meeting their needs.”

Denis’s involvement across the sector is mirrored in the working culture and commitment to training at Aylsham Manor. More than half the staff are qualified or working towards NVQ2 or NVQ3, and the home has two NVQ assessors and one verifier on the books. With staff turnover a shade under 10 per cent, and the home’s location being a village of 6,000 with six community health or care providers within a two-mile radius, Aylsham Manor can recruit staff as it needs.

Beneath the statistics, Denis cites the example of one of her staff who is undertaking the NVQ: “She enjoys her job and gives her best; she is enthusiastic, wants to learn, uses what she has learned to think about how she does things and is proud of her achievements.” This member of staff is 58 and joined the home as a cleaner. For Denis, the real success has been “my staff enjoying their training and giving their best to the residents through what they have achieved”.

Curriculum vitae

Name: Denise Denis. 
Job: Residential care home owner and manager. 
Qualifications: BSc (Hons), DipSW. 
Last job: Running a  catering business. 
First Job: Social worker.   

Top tips

  • Be upfront and clear about the training expectations you have for new staff. 
  • Be prepared to pay for training when no funding is available. 
  • Lead by example; no one is above learning.   

Rubbish tips 

  • Assume NVQs can be completed  in six months. 
  • Do it as cheaply as possible. 
  • Assume that your staff don’t want to train.

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