Being voted the best local business in your second year of trading is extraordinary - and for that to happen in a pandemic when you’re the pioneering franchise in a network is nothing short of astonishing.
But that’s what Paul and Jo Hamilton, owners of Blossom Home Care in Teesdale and Weardale, have achieved.
Scooping the Best Business Award - the most prestigious prize in the Teesdale Business Awards - is a promising start to any trophy cabinet, but for Paul and Jo, it only adds to the satisfaction they’re getting from bringing premium care-in-the-home to their area.
“After our successful careers, we were already financially secure and and had not considered starting a business ,” says Paul, a former IT manager.
“We could have just carried on with a comfortable life, but chose instead to do something we could look back on with pride.”
The people of Teesdale and Weardale are mightily relieved that Paul and Jo did, too, as other care companies have chosen not to serve the tiny population that’s thinly scattered over a huge geographical area.
But Paul and Jo and Blossom went for it because they believe people need and deserve high quality care in their homes, wherever they happen to live.
“Blossom are very different to other providers,” says Paul. “Jo, being a district nurse, has seen the outcomes and sometimes the damage that bad care can do and the effect it has on people.
“But Blossom’s care model ensures things are right. Everything related to care is covered so that everything is correct and safe and the care delivered is as perfect as it can be.
“We’ve had some fantastic reviews and feedback, and we’re particularly proud of what we’ve been able to do for one client who’d been looked after for three years but had only been getting 15-minute visits.
“He was in a state of disrepair. He was uncomfortable and unhappy and his mood was very low. His family were very unhappy, too, and felt helpless.
“Within two weeks, we changed his outlook on life. He’s clean and comfortable, he’s happy, his family are happy and he’s in the best situation possible in his circumstances.
‘That’s the result of providing quality care with properly trained staff and minimum 50-minute care visits.
“Some of our clients have been with us since we started our care service more than a year ago, and our second client is still with us. We’re helping that lady stay in her home with her husband.
“It’s not perfect. But it’s the best situation she could possibly have and she is happy and comfortable. And that’s what keeps us going. It gives us a massive lift.
“Our carers say the same. They can’t believe the difference in their own work-life balance, We have one carer who feels she’s got her life back.
“She’s now got the time to care, the time to breathe, the time to reflect both physically and emotionally, and she looks different, happier and healthier.
“It’s very important to us that our care staff are happy and contented, as this reflects on the quality of care provided.”
Paul and Jo took a courageous step in becoming the first franchisees in what was to become the Blossom Home Care network.
The challenges that came with that - recruitment, staff retention, and serving a scattered community with a very low population density - were acknowledged by the judges of the Teesdale Business Awards, who praised Paul and Jo for their resilience and their determination to succeed in an area other providers didn’t even dare to enter.
“It was a bit of a torrid time at first,” Paul recalls. “It was a harsh Winter, then there was Covid followed by lockdowns.
“We felt, as the song says, that if we could make it here, we could make it anywhere.
“There’s still plenty of work to do to achieve our target of being the premium home care provider in our area, but if quality of care is the deciding factor then we’re well on the way to achieving that.
“The people we have in our care team now are invested in us,” says Paul. “It’s a good position to be in. They really want to be here. We’re very excited by the people who’ve joined and are joining.
“Most of our enquiries now come via recommendation. And almost 60% of our clients are private arrangements, which is healthy from a business view, as they usually stay longer.
“We’re right back up where we were in June and July and should exceed that next month, so the growth is definitely there. I’m confident enquiries will keep coming in.”
The couple invested in a Blossom Home Care franchise, based in Barnard Castle, because Jo had worked with Blossom co-founder Fiona Leggott in nursing and they had a mutual trust and understanding.
“We didn’t know anything about care at all, apart from Jo’s district nursing experience,” says Paul.
“But the key to our success is the training of our care team, an ongoing process to ensure our staff have the knowledge and skills to provide the best care possible. plus they have the support here of a district nurse and a care manager with 20 years of experience.
“If they don’t know the answer, nobody will!
“The whole set-up of Blossom is fantastic. We wouldn’t have even contemplated starting a business like this without their help. We wouldn’t have had a clue where to start.
“Blossom’s support covers staff training, accreditation, CQC registration, office set-up and ongoing monitoring of every aspect of the care service and its administration which all must be to the Blossom standard. And the Blossom standard is the best.
“Everything related to care is recorded on a centralised care system. Standards are very high and the care business model, once implemented, makes it a perfect care company from an operational and care standards point of view.
“One of the judges at the awards said we were head and shoulders above the rest in terms of management of the business as we’ve demonstrated great growth in our first year, we manage the business and look after our staff perfectly, and we’ve shown a massive resilience to get through these last 12 months.
“It’s a grand place, a beautiful area, lovely people, and a community that really appreciates us being here.
“The fact that we have made it here proves Blossom’s business model works, it proves the need for care here, and it proves beyond all doubt that with hard work and determination you can build a successful care business in a sparsely-populated area.”