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Business Clinic – Employee ownership
Middleton Hall Retirement Village: a new chapter for social care?

It’s widely acknowledged that the recruitment landscape in the social care sector is, at the very least, difficult. Organisations are constantly needing to come up with new ideas for innovation in this important area to attract more staff.

One of the main areas for focus in adult social care is recruiting enough staff to keep services running safely and effectively – and then keeping those staff within the organisation.

Middleton Hall Retirement Village has taken a new step in this respect and has become the first UK retirement village to be owned by its employees.

Initial conversations

The idea of becoming an entirely employee-owned retirement village had been discussed for around four years amongst the board and main shareholders of the company.
These stakeholders were looking for a way to share the rewards and successes of the business with employees, whilst maintaining the ethos of the retirement village and ensuring re-investment and improvement.

Managing Director of Middleton Hall Retirement Village, Jeremy Walford, and the shareholders of the company looked at employee ownership and linked up with the Employee Ownership Association to further explore the options available to them.

They conducted research, meeting with others who had become employee owned, such as retailer John Lewis & Partners, and learnt about exactly what was in store for them if they were to bring in the changes.

Keeping communication open

The board of directors were kept informed at all stages, before an initial project team was set up a year before the planned launch, representing all areas of the business. This team worked on communication and implementation and was expanded to six people six months later.

The project team communicated with all employees, developing information packs to help employees, residents, customers and families to understand the proposal when it was announced.

Consultation workshops were also completed with almost all of the employees, which influenced key decisions, such as how the election process would work and the title Co-owners would adopt (this term was preferred over ‘employee owners’ or ‘partners’).

Making it work

The transition to an Employee Ownership Trust was completed in April 2019 and required specialist legal advice, long-term loan agreement with the provider’s bank, and the establishment of an election process to the Co-owners Forum and Trust Board.

Whilst the vision was clear, challenges have presented themselves. 180 employees were involved in the process, as well as families, residents, members of the on-site spa, the bank and regulatory bodies.

This posed a potential communication difficulty – making each of these groups of people aware of the proposed changes and the difference it would make to them individually was a key element of ensuring that the plans went ahead.

This is why the team came up with information packs. These were designed to be given to staff, residents and families to provide them with all the details they needed about the plans.

Videos and PowerPoint presentations were also disseminated and web pages were created in advance so that people could understand how the new system would work.

Another difficulty has been in clarifying the difference between the leadership and ownership of the organisation. While the ownership has passed to the employees, the leadership remains the same.

Jeremy explains, ‘We expect this will take time to be fully understood’ and aims to demonstrate the difference in role through action and change.

A look to the future

So far, Middleton Hall Retirement Village has seen positive engagement from its new Co-owners with a celebratory party held to share the success of the plans’ implementation and the signing of the documents to formally put in place the sale and documentation for the Employee Ownership Trust.

The organisation is hoping that the future will bring further positive change, particularly in employee involvement and engagement.

Middleton Hall’s leadership is also expecting to see a renewed dedication to continued improvement, both in terms of quality of services and efficiency of the operations. However, Jeremy says the priority is for Co-owners to feel ‘that they are properly rewarded and recognised for the amazing job they do in helping our residents to live well in later life.’

Jeremy continues, ‘My motivation over the last 23 years has been driven by the desire to build a business that makes a difference to our customers and staff rather than purely for financial reward. And I felt a strong responsibility towards our customers and employees to ensure they benefited from my decision about selling the company. I believe that our employees who are committed to our vision and values are the most likely to maintain the ethos and spirit of the organisation in the long term.

‘Employee owned organisations that I have visited have all demonstrated significant improvements since becoming employee owned – including to customer service, employee satisfaction, efficiency and recruitment.

‘Moving to an Employee Ownership Trust should ensure continued re-investment, high employee engagement and customer focus.’

Over to the experts…

How can Middleton Hall’s scheme be replicated in other adult social care services? What are the potential implications for recruitment and retention? How does this change the way the retirement village is funded? What are the risks?

Interesting approach to employee engagement

It is widely acknowledged that pay rates in the care sector do not reflect the skill and responsibilities placed on those who work in it. In ever-increasing competitive and regulatory environments, it is essential that operators recruit, train and retain the right staff so it’s worth investing time into finding (and keeping) a team that will deliver for you. Building loyalty when people can earn the same wage in much less demanding jobs is no easy task.

Without radically increasing wages to attract staff and to show appreciation, operators have to look at creating added value elsewhere. One idea is the shared ownership approach of Middleton Hall Retirement Village. Already tried and tested in other industries, it’s likely that Middleton Hall will not be the only provider to consider this model. It’s easy to see how staff would react positively to such a scheme; after all, they have a vested interest in its continued success. It also has enormous potential to be a great selling point to clients and their families.

So far, so good. But what if the leadership team wants to sell? There may be challenges when the owners are not just the senior management team but instead, the entire company. Until these models of ownership become more widespread some buyers may not be entirely at ease with such a structure and there may be concerns about committing to a model of ownership they have not considered before.

All in all, I think it’s an interesting approach to employee engagement and it has the potential for significant gains for care providers in terms of staff retention and brand promotion.

Alison Willoughby, Regional Director, DC Care  


Something worth buying into

During my first week in my current role, I noticed a senior manager bend down, pick up a paper towel and put it in the bin. I wondered how many people had walked past. This chap obviously cared about his surroundings and I now find myself doing the same. I think there is a difference in how you act in your own space compared to how you do in somebody else’s. Ownership makes a great difference to how involved or responsible you feel.

When I read about Middleton Hall’s employee ownership scheme I smiled and visited their website to find out more. As I am writing this, I am planning to change my route to see a customer in the North East so I can at least call into their reception and look at the layout of the site. I am feeling positive about Middleton Hall without seeing it or benefitting from shared ownership.

We see market research from Skills for Care talking about staff turnover in care homes running at 30.7% and vacancy rates at 8%. Care homes need experienced staff who know their residents to deliver great care. It will be interesting to see how this scheme works and whether staff retention improves. I hope it does as it is easier for a stable staff to deliver consistent quality care, plus people like building a rapport with their care staff.

I also see that staff are paid the enhanced living wage, which may reflect better fee rates enjoyed by the business.

The combination of well-trained staff, attractive well-maintained accommodation in a beautiful setting, delivering quality care to happy people must be something worth buying into. I will watch with interest in how this develops and wish all parties well in the endeavour.

Jeremy Huband, Head of Healthcare – UK Corporate Banking, HSBC UK


Can only help recruitment and retention

Middleton Hall Retirement Village is one of our annual Accolades winners, so the creation of an employee-owned company is exactly the sort of innovative idea we would expect from them.

They did their research, thought about what the scheme would look like, got expert advice to create sustainable structures, communicated it clearly to all the stakeholders involved and then implemented it once they had secured buy-in.

We know that when workers feel valued – both through their pay packet and being able to access career-long learning and development opportunities – they are much more likely to stay with their employers. Becoming owners of their company, and benefitting from the success they have contributed to, can only help recruitment and retention. It is clearly a strong selling point when recruiting to say, ‘You will become one of the owners of this company’, and I await with interest to see what the long-term impact on retention will be as the benefits are shared.

In a sector with 21,200 different organisations offering adult social care in England, there is a danger that other employers might see it as a ‘one size fits all solution’ to either funding issues or recruitment and retention challenges. But if you look at how Middleton Hall developed this model, they looked at what worked best for them and ultimately the people who use their services. Any other organisation thinking of taking this route would need to look at how the Middleton Hall team did it, and then fit that to what works best for them.

I’m big fan of innovation so full marks to the team at Middleton Hall for being so bold and possibly inspiring others to look at this approach.

Andy Tilden, Interim Chief Executive, Skills for Care


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