Care & Support West: Then and Now

Marilyn Clarke, long time secretary of C&SW shares some reminiscences of what Care & Support West was like back in the day!

It is 40 years since the seeds were sown for Care Home Providers to form a support group.

In 1979 the draft regulations for the 1980 Residential Care Homes Act were drawn. For the first time there were to be a set of standards for compliance, with consequences if these were not met.

Most providers at that time were local small businesses with very little contact with each other and often in direct competition with the numerous care homes run by local authorities in the area.

I was contacted by the owner of Rosedale House who had worked in Social Services with my husband who asked me if I would join him to begin a support group, as many of the new requirements would be contentious. We had 2 homes, both being conversions of older properties and the new bedroom size, communal spaces and WC and bathroom requirements would need to be met. Many of the existing care homes were in old buildings and we realised we would need to form a trade association to support each other when the Council set out their registration guidance. Initially there were 4 of us. Rosedale’s Graham Doughty, Frenchay House, the Coles family, a Bath provider, all supporting elderly persons and myself with residents with learning and physical support needs. It was a case of going through the Yellow Pages to find other providers and circulating our request for them to join with us. The small number of providers to begin with met up monthly at a cold, damp cricket pavilion belonging to Imperial Club West Town Lane. Graham as Chairman led the charge when we needed to have a voice to challenge some of the Council’s requirements. Representing the Council for the registration process was Mr Edward Gully. I well remember him coming to look around my 2 homes with his clipboard and tape measure and being the obnoxious Council representative we had come to expect. He closed one of my bedrooms which did not meet the size requirements. This became a contentious issue for numerous providers and subject to many appeals at the time.

We had called ourselves the Avon Residential Care Homes Association, ARCHA and gradually as we became better known, new members came forward to join us. There was no dialogue between us and the Council because they had their own homes and we concluded that their political bias of not needing a private sector was the driver to exclude us.

The 1980 Act was superseded by the 1984 Act and still at that time the main issue for Inspectors was compliance with the physical sizes of rooms. In addition there were big changes in the hierarchy of the Council and some officers took early retirement. One of these was Edward Gully. Ted as he became known to us was invited to join us as our link with the Council and his invaluable insider knowledge was the beginning of the setting up of the Council’s Provider Forum. The officer given the task of being the Council’s representative at this forum was known to Ted and myself and this was the start of a much softer approach towards us. This gave credence to it’s not what you know, but who you know!

One of the significant development factors during those early years was the offer by the council for 4 members of the Association to join their Inspection Unit. How ironic that private sector providers were paid Council employees for 2 years. At that time there was no requirement for the Council’s homes to be registered or inspected. Those of us who were now Inspectors lobbied for that to change so that all homes in the Council area were inspected. It became clear that whilst private sector providers had a clear set of standards to meet, there were Council homes falling way below these standards. It was almost a Council own goal. We began to vocalise the double standards, the higher cost of local authority homes, the disparity in pay and conditions to the extent that by the end of the 2 years there was an awareness of the need for Council homes to be brought up to the registration standard. I believe this to be the start of the demise for Council run care homes. They had recognised that there was not a level playing field. Legislation later brought all homes into compliance standard.

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There has been many and various bumps in the road regarding Council’s commitment to work in

tandem with providers. There was a time when the first Council contract with home owners was

mooted and the Avon Registered Care Homes Association as we were then called was asked to be part

of a contract planning group. We met regularly with Council officers, Lawyers and Finance to agree the

content of the contract. We were listened to, had serious support for our views and signed off section

by section. What a contrast with how we are treated now. Contracts are presented to us and the

smokescreen of consultation results in us having to fight for any changes we might need, to sustain our

businesses.

ARCHA continued to grow membership, Chairman at the helm were from the elderly sector until 2004

when the CEO Steve of Brandon Trust joined us. He served until his untimely death and was replaced

by Chris from Freeways Trust. He, too, was to suffer an untimely death shocking all who knew him.

We lost Ted Gully too who had been the rock of the Association’s growth and recognition. We owe

him a great deal.

Moving on, to widen the brief of ARCHA, Care & Support West was born. Nursing homes, Domiciliary

and Community Care, supported living providers are now all able to join this trade association. It now

has a CEO and a Board of Directors with a more ambitious strategy to support and sustain its many

providers big and small who are across the 4 Councils in the area. Each decade has brought its own set

of issues for social care and during much of the past 40 years we seem to have been the poor relation to

the NHS. The challenge for the future, apart from ever diminishing fee levels is how Health and Social

Care can work in tandem, acknowledging the value of both and hoping for parity in pay and conditions

for our amazing social care workforce.