Abdul Sattar believes he is destined to help people. His Arabic name means “servant of God” which is something he keeps in mind in his role as managing director of supported housing provider Comfort Care Services.
The organisation provides supported accommodation for people with mental illness, learning disabilities, and substance misuse problems in Slough, Maidenhead and Reading. Its Move On programme operates a structured, three-tiered approach to support that eventually leads to clients living independently.
Once a client is referred to Comfort Care they are jointly assessed by one of its practitioners and a care manager from the local authority’s community mental health team. On the basis of the assessment they move into accommodation where they receive either high, medium or floating (low level) support, ranging from 24 hours to one hour a week. They spend an average of four years with the provider.
This approach benefits clients, says Sattar, because it focuses on continuity of care and safety. “It’s important to do that because most of the people we are working with are the most vulnerable in society. They’ve been abandoned and have given up hope, but if a person has a little bit of hope it changes the way we work with them.”
Comfort Care also manages small crisis units where an individual can stay for up to three days if they have a crisis in their own home. Their needs are then assessed for suitable placement in hospital, residential care, supported accommodation or independent living. Its respite care projects provide short-term supported accommodation for people who may be temporarily unable to care for themselves at home, or to give carers a short break.
A good breakfast
Sattar stumbled into social care in 1985 via a property deal after training to be an engineer and working in business finance. He bought a six-bedroom house in south west London and found that the two residents living on the top floor of the building received care services from the local authority. Not wanting to evict them, Sattar approached the council and offered to provide the care instead. Despite Sattar having no care experience, the council approved his request and he founded Comfort Care Services at the age of just 23.
“The first thing I did was to improve their meals so I learned how to cook them a decent breakfast,” he says. “I also got the residents involved in helping to run the house, and they started to see hope.”
He also undertook an NVQ in care and management and, as his company grew, encouraged his staff to complete appropriate training to add to their skills.
Becki Cook is Comfort Care’s Maidenhead area assistant manager and has worked for the company for four years. She says the Move On programme shows service users “there is light at the end of the tunnel” with its laid-back approach.
“It gives them the skills to cope with life in the community and to be accepted,” she adds.
Cook spends a lot of time working with clients to gain their trust and boost their self-esteem. She helps them take pride in their appearance. Many need motivating because they have low confidence, she says. “I want them to feel secure and happy, and for their mental health to stabilise.”
She also helps them gain skills such as food preparation and hygiene, health and safety, budgeting and how to maintain a tenancy for when they are ready to live independently. Clients are also supported through education, voluntary work at a garden centre and a swan sanctuary and any paid employment they take on.
Joe Woodman has been a client of Comfort Care Services for the last five years. The 43-year-old from Slough met Sattar when he collected Joe from a mental health hospital. “I was so happy when I met Abdul, I was over the moon,” he says.
Woodman had just had his second breakdown after decades of using alcohol and cannabis, which he began smoking when he was 13. He had also been in prison three times for a total of 12 years.
During his time on the Move On programme he has not committed a crime or had a mental health episode and currently volunteers at a gardening centre. One of the biggest improvements in his life is that he now has a better relationship with his children and stepson.
In January 2007 Sattar helped Woodman achieve his dream by taking him to Barbados, where his father came from. Another client and practitioner were on the trip of a lifetime so that both clients were supported on what Woodman says was “an amazing holiday”.