Care In The Time Of Coronavirus
Running a business in the health and social care field brings many challenges especially in times of a global pandemic. WILLIAM and SARA FLINT have been running their successful Bluebird Care franchise in Exeter for nine years. In those nine years, they have expanded to Exmouth, Honiton and (soon) West Devon. Stephanie Darkes finds out how they came to begin their business, what care means to them and how they are protecting their team and customers during the Coronavirus crisis.
On a sunny day on Loughborough University campus back in 2000, Sara and Will locked eyes for the first time falling in love and marrying shortly afterwards. After graduating they began their careers together. Will started in Health and Social Care on the NHS Management Scheme, he said,
“It’s funny, because when people ask, ‘where were you when 9/11 happened?’ I was embarking on my first day as an NHS Management Trainee. I arrived to find that all the senior management and top brass had disappeared to Whitehall to begin emergency planning. That was when it struck me just how pivotal Health services were to all our lives.”
Meanwhile, after graduating with a degree in French and Business, Sara was embarking on a career in the European airline industry as a BMI Baby Graduate Management Trainee. The work didn’t spark excitement, and it soon became clear that Sara had found her calling elsewhere.
“Each day I walked to the train station and saw the same care home residents sat looking out of their windows morning and evening, it made my heart ache. I knew I could do better, so I quit my position and became an Activities Coordinator working in the care home for free for 18 months, I never looked back.”
So why did Sara decide to start her own business in the Health and Social Care sector working with the elderly?
Sara grew up in a household where both her Nans were a daily part of family life, from this experience she grew to value and enjoy the company of her elders, but she also knew their vulnerability. The two Nans were very different, one nan, deeply generous, loyal, and rather serious died without a penny to her name. The other nan was mischievous, the life and soul of a family gathering and enjoyed holidays aboard cruise ships across the world. Sara said,
“From the story of the two Nans comes our commitment to provide care and support to everyone, that our services should never be exclusive and to treat everyone equally focussing more on them and their story.”
Will was raised in Tavistock and always had the calling to return to his home county, Devon, and in 2007 the couple did just that. Will took a job managing the Exeter and East Devon Community Services and Care of the Elderly services, this was the role that sparked his passion for helping older vulnerable people, he said,
“For four years, my experience of learning from some very skilled and passionate nurses and matrons showed me the real privilege of providing outstanding care and support to the vulnerable in our communities.”
Both Sara and Will have come a long way since their move back to Devon in 2007, their Bluebird Care franchises are award-winning and CQC ‘outstanding’ care business. But being on the frontline, how has their business been affected by Coronavirus?
“I admit at first I was daunted by the looming spectre of a global pandemic. I was also a little upset because the business was working so well, who really likes change?! I had to lean on some of the many management books I had read and actually apply their advice – not just display them on the shelf like trophies! I focussed on changing my state of mind – accepting the severity of the situation and the disruption it was going to cause, accepting that it was very threatening to our business and livelihood but also recognising that our team would look for leadership and they deserved that response from me.”
Sara feels incredibly concerned for their staff and customers.
“We are doing everything we can to keep them safe both physically and mentally. Tracking the progress of the virus made it clear just how impacting it could be on all our lives and particularly the elderly and vulnerable in our communities. Much like Will, my fight back has been in the form of action, social action in particular. For our staff and also for NHS wards at the RD&E to whom we sent treat boxes, and Exeter Foodbank. I want them to know that we value them and that we respect their hard work and how they put their own anxieties to care for people locally. Finding ways to look after them has been important to me.”
What are some of the stats involved with the services offered during COVID-19?
Since lockdown we have:
o Made 14,715 visits
o Worked 23, 049 hours
o Cared for 298 customers
o Received over 122 applications for care assistant positions and increased our team by over 16%
o Handed out over 160 Easter eggs to our team, plus 400 hand creams, shower gels, Brew Tea and supplements to them and the staff at the RD&E
o Connected families locally and internationally via Skype and Facetime, delivered flowers for Mother’s Day as well as emergency food packages
o Seen an increase of 23% in hours delivered
o Celebrated 26 staff long service awards in April representing 66 years of combined service to the community
With three-year-old twins and a busy business to run how have Will and Sara managed to care for themselves and their family during these difficult times?
Both agreed that
“Not having access to Nursery has definitely been quite a major adjustment but we have muddled through together and we are really enjoying the concentrated family time.”
Will finds exercise hugely helpful for his sense of wellbeing and being a farmer’s son, the outdoors plays a big part in his self-care.
“With our freedoms curtailed when the signs of what was coming were clear I bought a turbo trainer so I can ride my bike indoors and so I’m now a Zwifter, or if I fancy some ‘real life’ I go for a FulGaz ride!”
(If, like us, you are not bike-lingo savvy, Zwifter is virtual training for running and cycling and FulGaz is a virtual bike ride on video).
Alongside the child-wrangling, Sara doesn’t manage to carve much time for self care but she has been finding headspace in the garden and losing herself in books.
“I’ve enjoyed adding some plants, we also live near some parks and getting outside has been a blessing. I think what has really kept me on the straight and narrow is being able to escape into a good book. So far I have read ‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins, ‘On Living’ by Kerry Egan and ‘I never said I loved you’ by Rhik Samadder.”
Like many couples, the two can’t see eye to eye over what to watch on Netflix, be it Ozark or The Durrells – but who has time for TV anyway?
Finally, we asked Will and Sara, if they could pick one positive moment from the last few weeks, what would it be and why?
Sara’s expression softened and she said,
“Being part of the #clapforcarers, hearing my neighbours and whole streets join in and clap together – has been incredibly emotional.”
Will has been blown away by the Bluebird Care team effort.
“I never fail to be moved by the commitment of our whole team and how they are able to pull together, putting themselves on the frontline selflessly in the interest of others.”
Written by Stephanie Darkes
Photos supplied by Bluebird Care