Highland Home Carers

Posted by editor 08/01/2014 0 Comment 4063 views


Home caring for the frail or those with disabilities is a commendable enough undertaking, but one unconventional company has taken their commitment to the community to new levels. By Charles Howgego

“I would be totally lost without them,” says Helen Henderson from her home in Inverness. The 70-year-old has had mobility issues for some time and has been visited by the caring firm Highland Home Carers (HHC) for five years.

“They get me up in the morning, see me right at lunch and tuck me up in bed at night,” she goes on, “they have kept me in my home.” Music to the ears, no doubt, of company founder Nick Boyle whose unique vision in 1994 involved setting up a home-visiting caring business for the Scottish Highlands with the goal of exiting after 10 years. How he went about that created an employee-owned company reaching the parts other caring firms fail to reach.

“I wanted to establish a good service of care in the Highlands,” says Boyle, now chairman of the company he set up in 1994, “but I was also very keen for people to live well and die in their own homes… before that, in the days of local authority care, there was this sense that if you needed care at awkward times they would have to look at residential care.”

So in 2004, after 10 years, Boyle set his plan in motion to sell the company, but with some caveats: “The business had a good reputation and in many ways the last thing I wanted to do was sell out to a competitor. It would have felt disloyal to the employees.

“The way to have the best possible service was to have the greatest continuity of employees, and employee ownership solved all these issues.” Staff at an employee-owned company – such as John Lewis – can receive profit share and a greater say in the running of the company.

The model is one that particularly suits caring, says HHC CEO Stephen Pennington: “We don’t make things and we don’t sell things, it is all about people,” he says, “the people are our asset and in investing in your people you improve the quality of your service – which is at the very heart of caring.”

HHC support worker Ralph Ross, who helps people with learning difficulties live in their homes, agrees that the employee-owned nature of the company has a tangible effect on the workforce: “We feel like we’re working as a big team, we’re working for each other to make HHC better.”

Ross was also an ’employee director’ for three years, representing colleagues on the board. “It has definitely given me the confidence to speak up and have my say on the direction the company is taking,” says Ross, who has been with HHC 10 years.

People definitely seem happy to stay with Highland Home Carers, according to CEO Pennington. “From anecdotal evidence we are streets ahead of our competitors in terms on employee retention. The big problem for (our competitors) is recruitment and holding on to staff.”

The relatively longer distances carers have to travel in the more remote areas of the Highlands can create difficulties for corporate companies, who sometimes have to satisfy shareholders with high profit levels and can be focused on the bottom line. Less of an issue for HHC.

The company now has over 240 employees from all sorts of backgrounds, and a new finance deal with social investors Big Issue Invest and Community And Co-Operative Finance has given HHC the chance to take more contracts and move forward: “The new deal means there will be more profit and therefore more money to invest in our staff,” says Pennington.

Chairman of Big Issue Invest Nigel Kershaw concurs: “We see this as an investment in a community,” he says. “As an employee-owned company HHC brings not only employment but stability to the local community. They’re not likely to run off and locate in another area because the profit margins are higher somewhere else! Most importantly it means some people will receive home caring where no one else is willing to provide it.”

Highland Home Carers expansion slowly but surely means they are now sending carers out 40 miles to the west to Ullapool, 30 miles north to Dornoch and 20 miles east to Cairn and will soon be looking after roughly 400 people. Helen Henderson for one is very pleased with their dedicated service: “I’m very friendly with them,” she says fondly, “and without them the option would be residential care. And I wouldn’t fancy that!”





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