EXCLUSIVE: Putting the fun into care

Christine Asbury, CEO of WCS Care

With five of its 13 care homes rated Outstanding, WCS Care enjoys a strike rate of more than one in three, compared with the overall 1% national rate. Care Home Professional went to the recently opened £10.5m Castle Brook care home to talk to CEO Christine Asbury to find out what makes WCS Care so different.

WCS Care’s Castle Brook home is well named. The home in Kenilworth, Warwickshire boasts state-of-the-art security, including finger print door access, and is situated next to a small brook.

“This was the first new build I’ve worked on from scratch since joining the company,” Christine says.

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“It’s the only one of our homes that we’ve been able to design on the basis of what we aspire to do, rather than what we’re able to do with the buildings we already have.”

Castle Brook takes the community living model WCS Care established at Drovers House in Rugby – its first new build which opened in September 2013 – to a new level.

“Our ideas were much better formed by the time we came to build Castle Brook,” Christine says.

The home is inspired by ideas gleaned from the Belong community living model and De Hogeweyk in the Netherlands and pulls them together to create something that is distinctively WCS Care.

“Almost nothing you see here is unique to us, yet we have put it together in a way that works well for us,” Christine says.

She is a big fan of the Dutch bold and innovative approach to care. Christine tells me Dutch care providers are freer to innovate as they are less constrained by regulation.

Castle Brook's side-by-side bike

Castle Brook’s side-by-side bike

The home has been painstakingly planned by Christine and Director of Innovation and Delivery Ed Russell.

“There isn’t a piece of fabric or stick of furniture or a layout of this home that Ed and I haven’t been all over,” Christine says.

“We chose everything from the type of toilet seats to the tiles because we had an objective. It works because we are both so close to what happens on a day-to-day basis, so we understand what we want.  A lot of the design thinking around dementia has come from us as we know how our homes work in practice.”

Castle Brook is made up of six households of 14 people to promote a feeling of community and well-being.

A central public space, including launderette, cafe and shop provides people with the freedom to walk around in a space that is comfortable and usable.

“When you come up here from your household, there’s a purpose,” Christine says.

“You can come to the cafe and have a coffee, you can watch a film in the cinema or you can go into the shop. There’s a lot of different things to do.”

The home manager’s office is also here so that she is always on hand for residents and guests and can keep an eye on comings and goings.

The ground floor shop also acts as a store room where people can come and stock up on food items for their households.

Residents are also free to use the traditional launderette if they choose or simply sit back and let the launderess look after their washing.

WCS stock imagery - Castle Brook Care Home, Common Lane, Kenilworth CV8 2EQ. 2nd March 2017

Castle Brook’s Supersuds launderette

Play is a key component of WCS Care’s core values. In what is thought to be a UK care home first, Castle Brook features a new version of the BAT Foundation’s therapy table tennis table, complete with high sides that keep the ball in play, so residents, staff and visitors can have fun together, whatever their ability.

The home also boasts a thoughtfully designed cinema showing three to four films every day.

Outside, residents and carers have fun and can exercise using the home’s four-wheeled side-by-side bike for two, which has proved to be one of Castle Brook’s most popular unique features.

A full diary of events is provided for residents to choose from. WCS Care has signed up to the Out & About programme offered by Oomph! Its Lifestyle Coaches are fully trained in the Oomph! approach.

One by one the innovations at Castle Brook, such as its spa, pamper salon and deluxe cinema, are bringing more life and focus to WCS Care’s other homes.

Meanwhile, having opened its doors in early December 2016, the 84-bed Castle Brook home is now two-thirds full with around four new residents being added each month.

Accommodation has also been provided for 32 residents of WCS Care’s neighbouring Woodside home, which is set to undergo a multi-million pound redevelopment, subject to planning permission.

Residents at Castle Brook are split 50:50 between local authority and private fee payers. Christine aims to continue that even split across the group, so that people experience the same level of care regardless of how they pay.

“We want to continue to have socially funded residents. There’s a strong financial value in having block contracts because they provide predictable income. The mix of local authority and privately funded residents works well for us,” Christine says.

In a further innovation one of the households has been allocated for the rehabilitation of NHS patients through a partnership with South Warwickshire Foundation Trust (SWFT).

“The Trust’s chairman came to visit Drovers House in Rugby and was inspired by what we were doing there,” Christine explains.

“Once they could see what we could offer at Castle Brook they could see how well it would work for them. It’s very difficult to replicate home in a hospital ward but here you’ve got a functioning kitchen, a launderette, a shop, a cafe. You can do all the things you would be doing at home.”

Castlebrook's luxurious spa  room

Castlebrook’s luxurious spa room

Offering a window on the future, Castle Brook is an exemplary model for the integration of health and social care under one roof.

As we tour the building, Christine points out the area set aside for Trust workers in the home’s shared office space.

At Castle Brook’s innovative health centre area, kitted out as a surgery, residents can continue to carry out the familiar routines of going to see their GP and dentist.

A luxurious and thoughtfully designed spa offers a place to relax for residents and day guests to the home.

A screen has been fitted on the wall in the spa so people can watch television while relaxing with a glass of champagne.

While touring Castle Brook with Christine, I am struck by how expressive residents are and how much interaction there is with carers, compared with other homes I have visited.

As with other WCS Care homes it’s the level of care and the ingrained desire to make every day a day well lived that makes Castle Brook special.

Christine is very hands-on in her leadership of the group. Being a new home, she visits Castle Brook two or three times a week to check everything is running smoothly.

It’s the level of attention that leaders of larger groups would inevitably struggle to provide.

No detail is too small for her to pick up on as we tour the home. She checks the morning paper is up to date in the gentleman’s room and even checks whether the glasses are clean in the drinks cabinet.

“The little things are the things that matter to people,” she says.

As with other Outstanding providers I have spoken with, I am struck by Christine’s boldness to innovate and try something new.

She’s a big fan of technology though not for its sake but for its ability to provide more person-centred and less intrusive care.

Carers at Castle Brook use handsets and a Wi-Fi/communications platform provided by GHM Care.

CLB’s non-intrusive acoustic monitoring system listens to residents at night, detecting noises above set thresholds and sending an alert to a central monitoring station. A manager then checks the alert and sends a carer to help where needed.

If no action is required, the system allows the night manager simply to reassure the resident and help them get back to sleep without having to enter the room.

Each community area has a dining room with service area

Each community area has a dining room with service area

A CLB nurse call system is also installed in the home.

“The nurse call system is actually a very minor part of our technology now because residents don’t have the need to use it very much to ask for help, and many don’t have the cognitive ability to remember it exists,” Christine says.

She estimates that PCS’s mobile care monitoring system saves each carer an hour and a half’s worth of paperwork every day, providing additional time for person centred care.

Each afternoon, senior managers analyse fluid intake and other care issues recorded on carer handsets to assess if any action is required.

Attracting the right kind of people is key to WCS Care’s success in delivering high quality care.

“When we are recruiting we are looking for values rather than qualifications as we do a lot of training ourselves,” Christine says.

Everyone undertakes WCS Care’s training programme, which includes an induction, gaining the Care Certificate and work around values.

“There’s lot of opportunities to develop,” Christine says. “People stay with us and work their way through the organisation. Only one home manager out of our current 13 isn’t home grown.

“We are increasingly gearing our recruitment processes to telling people what we are about and finding out if we are on the same page. You don’t have to have 20 years care experience. I would rather you get our values and are ready to have a bit of fun with people.”

WCS Care also boasts an extensive leadership development programme which all of the management takes part in. They’ve been working with Ladder to the Moon’s creative leadership programme, and are founder members of the Centre for Creativity & Innovation in Care.

Training includes NVQs and Diplomas. It is provided by a team of two with Christine helping to deliver the group’s values personally.

Wages are slightly above the National Living Wage with opportunities provided to enhance salaries by taking on extra responsibilities.

“People feel valued and can see there’s a career path for them if they want it,” Christine says.

“It’s fun. People want to work for us. We don’t struggle with recruitment the way some providers do. We have very low agency use and we have strong systems to control that.”



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