“Our business model is to buy residential care homes which have gone into administration – something that happens all too often – and turn them first and foremost into high quality facilities, but which also happen to be successful businesses,” says May Prentice, Regional Operations Manager (Scotland), Silverline Care.
“Because a care home needs high occupancy to work as a business, before we buy a property, we must get under the skin of why they have gone into administration and what needs to be done to remedy that issue. This usually involves significant investment on our part in the capital infrastructure of the home, to ensure it provides the high quality environment that our residents deserve.”
One of the group’s more recent acquisitions, Springhill Care Home in Kilmarnock, is a prime example. “It is a beautiful B-listed Georgian building which had been neglected through lack of investment, leading to decreasing occupancy because the local authority was choosing not to place people there,” says May. “After buying Springhill we invested heavily in restoring the building to its former glory.”
An important part of that restoration was the refurbishment of the kitchen. Sharon McHardy, Silverline’s Regional Catering Manager (Scotland), takes up the tale. “Springhill involved a complete rip-out and resurfacing – walls, floors, ceilings – and every single piece of equipment had to be replaced. It was a huge project, but the kitchen is now fit for purpose in line with the company’s vision for how we deliver care.
“That was the biggest project I’ve seen. A couple of the other homes have had quite substantial upgrades: new floors, new dishwashers and cookers, etc,” says Sharon. “I’m very pleased with the amount of money that’s been invested in this side of the operation.”
Part of Sharon’s job is to go round the homes and highlight concerns, or identify equipment that’s not up to scratch. “I would then take those concerns to May,” she says.
Silverline Care currently has over 400 residents spread throughout its eight homes, which offer nursing, dementia and respite care.
Enablement is a key part of the company ethos, supporting people to feel capable again. As care professionals, staff see it as their job to help residents feel like themselves and achieve the things they want to – even if it’s just the little things such as getting up when you want or preparing your own breakfast. There are regular activities in each home, beautiful gardens to enjoy and elegantly appointed dining rooms where residents can savour the freshly cooked meals.
“I’m a stickler for fresh food,” says Sharon. “Everything has to be made from scratch, with nice home baking as well.” And the general ethos behind the food service offering? “You want your residents to be happy, so the food needs to be really good quality, taste good and have good nutritional values too.”
Meals are taken in the relaxed atmosphere of the dining rooms, where the friendly ambience is helped along by gentle background music and staff sitting alongside the residents for a chat. Tablecloths, napkins, menu boards, condiments and a floral centrepiece ensure the tables look inviting.
Silverline’s residents need never go hungry, as Sharon and her chef teams are keen to make sure everyone gets what they want.
“At breakfast there is a really good variety, and it’s at the resident’s request – be it cereals, toast, scrambled eggs or whatever,” says Sharon. “For lunch residents tend to prefer soup and a pudding, or maybe a sandwich – and there’s always the alternative menu. Our residents can more or less order whatever they fancy – you know, omelettes, paté and toast… The menus are not set in stone; the residents can pretty much ask for anything. If it’s something a bit out of the ordinary that we didn’t have then obviously we would have to get it in for them, but in general we can accommodate most requests.”
For the main meal it’s the same kind of scenario: there’s a couple of choices on the main menu plan for each evening, but again you’ve got the alternative menu. “It’s about making sure everybody is happy and residents get a good amount of choice,” says Sharon.
Food orders are taken by the carers on the day and fed back to the kitchen, but at service time staff do a “visual choice” to make sure residents haven’t changed their minds.
Sharon says the residents definitely favour traditional dishes – shepherds pie, fish & chips, steak pie and, in Scotland anyway, haggis is quite popular. Each home has a monthly residents’ meeting, which “gives them a voice” in terms of things like menus. “Any requests that they have, or if there’s something they don’t like about the food, that’s the time they can have their input,” although Sharon encourages her chefs to regularly go and talk to the residents individually as well.
Regional specialities are given space on the menu, as well as special dietary requirements – such as texture modified meals and, in Yorskhire, Halal food is also freshly prepared on a daily basis.
Meals are loaded into a hot trolley in the kitchen and these get taken up to the dining rooms, where the residents are seated, by the kitchen assistants who serve up the food. “The carers tend to have a good knowledge of the residents’ individual likes and dislikes, so the KAs are guided by them as to who likes what in terms of vegetable accompaniments, or portion size, etc,” says Sharon. “If the residents don’t like something they’re not short on telling you!”
Some of the homes have coffee shops or cafés where residents can relax with visiting family. “We’re hoping to get those up and running in all our homes,” says Sharon, “but at the very least they have sitting rooms where they can enjoy a wee cup of tea with their visitors.” Teas and coffees, biscuits and cakes are available and, depending on the time of day and how long they’re staying, sandwiches might be offered.
Given that one of the key aims of Silverline is enablement, residents are positively encouraged to get more involved in everyday activities such as making tea, baking, etc. “We have one lady who likes to make up the trolley with the doilies and the teas and the biscuits and she actually goes round and serves all the residents,” says Sharon. “She loves it!”
Springhill has introduced a Cook School, where the residents can enjoy baking activities, and one of the homes recently had the residents covering strawberries in chocolate to have with their afternoon tea. “Obviously they’re not making any big meals, but it’s the fun aspect of making a wee bit themselves and then they get to eat it afterwards – they really enjoy that.”
Down in Yorkshire, Linson Court Care Home in Batley set up a weekly tuck shop, run by the residents and supported by the activity co-ordinators, selling sweets and other goodies. The money raised is put towards events at the home. The residents love being able to “work” here and it has been really successful. “It’s such a good idea,” says Sharon. “We’ve just started another tuck shop, this time in Scotland – at Lochranza, a unit within Ranfurly Care Home in Renfrewshire. It’s early days, but hopefully it will take off too.”
Silverline also likes to encourage links with the local community and all the homes are working towards this goal. “We’ve got links with the local schools and the youngsters come in and have a sing song with the residents and they get a juice or something afterwards. A lot of the homes are doing afternoon teas as well, inviting people in between 2pm and 4pm for a scone and a chat.”
A great care environment is about more than just meeting the needs of the residents, of course, and motivating and developing staff is seen as key by the management. Explains May: “Where a home has been in administration, employees are often demoralised, which is understandable after the difficult time they’ve been through. However, with the right leadership and support, you can restore morale and unleash their potential. In my experience, when staff feel they are being listened to, they are full of great ideas.
“Because happy employees provide better care, I believe that developing people is vital to a successful care business.”
The group is now supporting any member of the team who is interested through a new Open University qualification in nursing, for example, while for catering staff Sharon also has something up her sleeve.
“Through my relationship with Brakes we’ve been offered the chance to take advantage of a development kitchen. They are basically going to give us access to development chefs who specialise in this area, so our chefs will receive training in dysphagia, ideas for menu planning for the elderly, etc.
“I think it will be really, really good for the chefs to come together and be able to access that sort of training and expertise,” says Sharon.
Another supplier she’s been working closely with to provide extra support to catering teams is Pelican. “We’ve got iPads through our supplier and it’s basically an ordering system with all the nutritional information built in. It will help us create new menus and try out new ideas. My job will be to put in the recipes and the system will then give us the nutritional values of those dishes.
“We’re already confident that we’ve got good nutritional value across our menu plans but this system will allow us to evidence that.”
Are there any plans to add to the Silverline estate? “I believe so, yes,” says Sharon. “I’ve not been told anything official yet, but I know they’re keen to grow.”
So, watch this space, as they say!