CEO Helen Davies-Parsons set up Dormy Care four years ago with the aim of creating the next generation of luxury care homes. With an increasing array of private pay focused care home operators now targeting the luxury market, CHP found out what makes Dormy Care different.
Having trained as a nurse in the 1980s, Helen worked in various senior roles in the independent care sector before forming Dormy Care in 2015.
“’Dormy’ is a golfing term which means can’t be beaten,” Helen told CHP. “I wanted to do things better. I have been in so many care homes over the years – some of them great and some of them not so great and some just awful. I am absolutely passionate that care should be right.”
Helen founded Dormy on the principles of being ahead of the game in terms of care, innovation and design.
“I wanted to look at how we could create the next generation of care homes because I have worked with companies who have professed to be that company and they are ahead of the game for so long and then they slip back,” she explained.
“Within Dormy I wanted us to be at the forefront and fit for the future and look at the latest innovation – what was coming in and what was just about to come in – so we could build homes not just for our parents and grandparents but actually for us and for the future. Every home that we have built we have learnt something from and in the next home we have changed something and improved something and that will continue.”
Dormy opened its first luxury care home, Pine Martin Grange in Wareham, in Dorset in 2017 with Bramshott Grange in Liphook, Hampshire following in the spring of 2018. November 2018 saw the opening of Foxhunters Care Community in Abergavenny, South Wales, and Brockington House in Hereford, Herefordshire followed in August 2019.
Dormy is backed by care home developer Albion Care Communities and its investment fund. Albion Care Communities is chaired by Barchester Healthcare founder Mike Parsons.
“Albion Care Communities’ investment was based on the locations we found,” Helen noted.
“We don’t select locations just because they are in the south. For example, Abergavenny wouldn’t strike you as being an obvious area for a luxury care home but I knew the area locally being Welsh so Albion backed us based on the experience of the Dormy team. We have a track record of achievement so they trusted us.
“The original plan was to stay within Wales and the Marches but that changed with the new builds in Dorset and Hampshire,” Helen said. “It’s about looking at the location and whether we can make a difference to that community. It’s very much about placing ourselves within the heart of the community and servicing the local need.”
Helen told CHP that having care homes spread over significant distances did not make them any more difficult to manage.
“We are very much a family,” she said. “We are very small but that means I get out to the homes and my two regional team members also get out. Our executive chef also goes out. Everybody knows me by name. If they have a problem anyone can call me. The family feel is evident throughout and that’s how I want it to stay. We can think big but behave small.”
Helen admitted that some parts of the country were more challenging than others when it came to recruitment. She said staff accessibility varied according to each community with recruitment being much more challenging in the care provider’s south coast homes. By contrast, Helen said Dormy Care’s homes in Abergavenny and Hereford had been “inundated” with applications.
Helen cited the example of a recent part-time vacancy at Foxhunters that attracted 36 applicants.
“Our reputation has grown and we are seen as a good employer and our standards are seen to be excellent so people want to come and work for us.” she observed.
With its successful luxury private pay model, moreover, Dormy Care is able to offer competitive salaries to its workforce.
Paying staff a fair wage was one of the founding commitments established by Helen when she set up the business.
“Staff are paid the Living Wage, regardless of age,” she explained. “If someone is 18 why should they be paid less than someone who suddenly becomes 22? We monitor what our local peers are paying and are certainly in the top paying sector.”
Pay differentials are provided according to experience, with staff also offered substantial career pathway and training and development opportunities.
“People generally come to us although we advertise on job vacancy websites,” Helen noted.
“We have people coming to us from the NHS, from care homes and from domiciliary care. Our salary scale for qualified nurses matches that for senior nurses in the NHS.
“Generally, we are very attractive to potential employees. People can start with us with no experience as a carer. We give them a proper induction. We encourage them to develop and go on and do their QCF qualifications. We encourage care staff to go and do the nursing associate qualifications.
“We have people following administration qualifications and have trainee chefs on board. It’s very much about investing in our own people because they will grow and with that growth comes knowledge and experience, which is all good for us.”
Helen takes a pragmatic approach to agency use. “We use very little agency,” she stressed.
“It’s a last resort. We have very high staffing levels compared with the national average. We do have occasions where agency needs to be used because we don’t want to understaff as that could potentially put our residents at risk or mean they don’t get the quality of service they need.”
The CEO highlighted Dormy Care’s “minimal” turnover as evidence of a happy workforce and again cited the example of Foxhunters which only lost two staff members in its first year, with both leaving for personal reasons.
“I wrote our founding commitments that include treating people with respect, celebrating success, paying a fair wage and growing people through investment and training,” Helen added.
“It’s the little things that matter – we launder staff uniforms and they get a meal on shift which makes them feel appreciated.”
Helen said Dormy Care took a flexible approach to shift patterns to give staff the right work-life balance.
“People can choose to work shorter days,” she said. “Working three consecutive 12-hour shifts is very difficult. People need enough down time to recover. We don’t want tired staff because that creates more problems.”
From the outset, Dormy Care has set new standards in award winning, purpose-built luxury care home design through its partnerships with local contractors, Harris Irwin architects, and designers, Kelly Wilson Interiors.
“We sit down as a whole team and think about what the theme of the home should be,” Helen noted. “For me being a luxury care home is about providing the highest standards of care not just décor. We invest more in the buildings than other providers might spend.”
Each home is themed around the local area. Brockington House, for example, is themed on the area’s strong links with the military, with its décor also evoking Hereford Cathedral.
“I have a very clear definition of what great care looks like,” Helen stressed. “These are not just care homes, they are communities and those communities need to revolve around a social space. In order to achieve that you can’t convert a house.”
While each Dormy home is different, they all revolve around a central community hub that includes a coffee shop, hairdressing salon, bar and gym.
“It doesn’t matter what part of the home the ladies and gentlemen live in, they can access the core of the home, which is open to everybody,” Helen told CHP.
“There is a core concept of having this community which comes into the middle of the home. If people want to have a rest they go off into their own environment and do not have it interrupted with people who want to make a bit of noise or do some activities. There is no restrictive access. It’s very difficult to do that with an older building because of the lay out.”
Dormy Care’s award winning approach to design focuses on meeting the bespoke needs of the individual, while also creating communal spaces that cater for all needs.
At an individual level, people are able to personalise their rooms with their own furniture and possessions within a risk aware framework.
At a communal level, each of Dormy Care’s lounges has a different feel and design to offer a choice of environments to people.
“We don’t have a TV in every lounge,” Helen said. “Some lounges are quieter. We have libraries, quiet spaces, snug areas. As long as you can provide variety for people they will find somewhere where they are happy.”
The luxury care home provider offers a full range of care services from residential and dementia to nursing care and brain injury, with the latter provided at Bramshott Grange where it works in close collaboration with Hobbs Rehabilitation.
Helen stressed how Dormy Care ensured people living with dementia were not segregated and were part of each care home’s community.
“There is always a stigma attached to people who live with dementia,” she noted. “The stigma is not only with the people themselves but the other people that live in the homes. We have areas of the homes where people live with dementia but they also mix with the rest of the community living there. There’s no label to the part of the home where they live, it’s just another area of the home.
“People with different conditions naturally form their own community but it doesn’t mean to say you couldn’t have someone with dementia living with someone who doesn’t have the condition. It depends on the individual.”
People are cared for on an all-inclusive basis with no hidden extras, with weekly fees ranging from £1,250-1,500, dependent on need and location of the home.
Dormy Care’s innovative approach is also reflected in its use of state of the art care technology.
Every home has Wifi access with care staff using Person Centred Software’s Mobile Care Monitoring and Invatech’s electronic medication systems.
“Everything is recorded at the point of delivery,” Helen noted. “People can forget what they have done if they have to write notes two of three times a day. The benefit of digital systems is that the detail is there.”
The luxury care home provider also uses the Eclipse (ENS) nurse call system, which includes falls monitoring and pingu functionality that enables anyone at a nurse station to see where team members are at any time so that they know who they can call on in an emergency.
“ENS provides us with data so we can evidence how people are being responded to and how long it takes,” Helen said.
“Our carers wear a pingu tag so we know who is in a client’s room. This can be linked to our care planning system so we know how long they are there for and what they recorded on the care planning system.
“We have found that all our tech suppliers are really committed to growing with us. They are looking at new innovations all the time. We are in the process of trialling a major development with ENS so we can have first access to the technology.”
Dormy Care also uses a wide array of innovations to promote physical and emotional well-being.
These include pianos fitted with headphones and the Tovertafel ‘magic table’. Tovertafel uses interactive games to connect people in the mid-to-late stages of dementia with each other, their family members and friends, all the while stimulating movement. Using interactive light projections, the Tovertafel, which can be played independently or as a group, invites participants to engage in activities such as popping bubbles, sweeping leaves or interacting with fish.
Amazon Alexas have also been stationed at strategic points around homes for individual and group use. Helen said Dormy Care had not seen examples of the technology causing increased anxiety in people living with dementia that have recently been quoted in the media.
“Obviously people need to understand what they need to say to Alexa in order to use it properly,” she noted. “Alexa is not perfect but with a member of staff who is supporting someone with dementia it can be very useful. It could be difficult for somebody living with dementia if they use it unsupported. We all know the benefits of music for people living with dementia. If Alexa provides a platform on which music can be played by voice activation then why wouldn’t you do that?”
Evidencing the greater freedom and independence that Alexa provided for people, Helen cited the examples of a lady who was now able to listen to her favourite composer on demand and another who used the technology to complete crosswords.
Bramshott Grange’s rehabilitation unit, meanwhile, has adopted pioneering mobility assistance technology such as the Hobbs Exoskeleton.
“Hobbs are very innovative,” Helen said. “Their success rate is phenomenal. They work with very complex people with very complex injuries and conditions. Not only are they experts in their field but they utilise the best technology they can find. They are always looking to innovate further. For example, they are doing some work on multiple sclerosis that could change the face of managing the condition.”
People with mobility challenges are provided with further support through the care group’s gyms that offer specialist equipment such as a treadmill that has been specifically designed for the elderly and a bike with a combined hand and foot pedal and removable seat for wheelchair users.
Further innovations under consideration include circadian lighting which adjusts to mirror the natural variations in daylight in order to help people with irregular sleeping patterns.
Taking an innovative, bespoke approach geared towards the individual is also key to Dormy Care’s
“We don’t treat people any differently because they have dementia,” Helen stressed. “We are trying to keep people together and to live a decent life that way. The focus is on fabulous care, fabulous environment, fabulous food and fabulous gardens and just making sure that we give those people, regardless of what their underlying problems might be, the best we can. People are people. They deserve the best.”
Each home boasts dementia friendly signage and icon wayfinders, with memory boxes located outside rooms.
While accepting that memory boxes were not to everyone’s taste, Helen highlighted they offered people the opportunity to decorate the outside of their rooms.
“We haven’t considered any particular model but have considered Stirling guidelines with regards to décor and lighting to a certain degree,” she noted.
Subtle colour changes are used on walls, doors and carpets to help partially sighted people get around the home. Buttons have been added to corridor flat rails so that people can feel when they are coming to an end.
Themed areas have also been added at the end of each corridor to give people living with dementia a destination to walk to.
“It’s a destination point for them,” Helen said. “They are well used.”
Dormy Care also takes an active role in supporting people living with dementia in the local community through providing Dementia Friends training to businesses and schools.
School children, meanwhile, come into the homes to eat with residents as part of a Luncheon Club programme and Dormy Care is also partnering with schools on a new pen pal letter writing initiative.
Additionally, an army of volunteers comes in from the community to provide companionship for people in the homes. Likewise, people in the homes are enabled to go out into the community when they wish. The outside is also brought into the homes through regular visits by community groups.
Providing high quality food is another key part of the luxury service delivered by Dormy Care.
“We have got some very high calibre chefs who have worked in the catering hospitality industry,” Helen highlighted. “One has worked with a Michelin starred chef in London. We spend an awful lot of money on our food. We use fresh, local and sustainably sourced food and very little if any convenience foods.”
Dining rooms are designed and operated in a restaurant-like style, complete with serving hosts and hostesses and at least two choices on every menu. Staff regularly sit with residents during meal times to encourage them to eat in a relaxed environment. Dementia needs are catered for with the use of coloured crockery, adapted cutlery and crockery, and a variety of drinking utensils.
Looking ahead, Helen is keen to expand the business in the right locations.
“The outlook will remain difficult but I think the better companies will thrive,” she observed.
“There is a lot of opportunity out there. The population is ageing. The number of people living with dementia is going to rise. As long as companies are providing the best service and environments they will survive and Dormy is going to be one of them.”