Breaking The Mould

Date Posted: 03 October 2017

3rd October 2017

breaking the mould

Octopus Healthcare has taken a gamble on consumer appetite still being strong for high-end care homes in the affluent south. Ploy Radford visits the care home the investor believes is different from the competition.

As any long suffering property agent will tell you, most investors and developers are only interested in private pay care home in the affluent south of England. Naturally, one can conclude then that an oversaturation of fancy care homes in that region is going to be a real problem. This was what the advisors of Mike Adams, chief executive of Octopus Healthcare, when a Linda Lloyd first approached him to back the development of a care home on a plot of land she owned in Camberley, Surrey. After a fair bit of tenacity on Lloyd’s part, though. Adams eventually agreed to invest in her vision and nearly three years later it has borne fruit with the opening of Aura Care Living’s first care home – Kings Lodge, in Camberley.

“I wouldn’t have backed Aura Care Living and started it here if it wasn’t an exceptional site. This is a site that’s hard to get planning for – you just don’t get 15 acres in the middle of Surrey with planning consent for fantastic aspects,” says Adams. “I’ve looked at the competition in the area and we actually have the best site for location.”

Indeed, those 15 acres means as you turn off the suburban Kings Ride road in Camberley you weave up a drive through woodland, past the sculpture of a rhino, and up towards a large, airy – there are a lot of floor to ceiling windows – modern brick and wood building that wouldn’t look amiss up in the mountains in a stylishly shot movie. The whole site is encircled with trees and extensive grounds populated by further animal sculptures and real deer. The feel is very much one of a zen retreat.

“I’ve also got an operator who has not only operated a very large nursery business, but her background was at David Lloyd Leisure and I knew she could operate hotels,” adds Adams. “And if I look at the most successful operators in the care sector, they come from the hospitality sector.”

Lloyd is certainly a sparkling, straight-talking tour de force. With a mischievous sense of humour – one of the first things she told HealthInvestors UK was to check out the balls on the statue of the stag that stands proudly outside the entrance of Kings Lodge.

“I saw this site in my head way ahead, every single window design, every little feature,” says Lloyd. “I actually wrote my first financial model in 2008 and tried to get high street funding and luckily it wasn’t meant to be, because I think Mike’s expertise and the team’s expertise has given me a canvas to build something really unique.”

And in terms of interior design, 64-bed home Kings Lodge more than fulfils the category of unique. Modern and Asian art, sculptures, Moroccan lamps, chandeliers with black netting draped over them, furnishings in an eclectic mix of fabrics and colours, beautifully carved furniture, plants blossoming everywhere and yet never feeling cluttered. There is a cosy pod with soft seating outside for residents to enjoy as well as lots of stylish garden furniture on the large communal balconies and patios. The delineation between outside and inside almost seems absent.

Lloyd was responsible for the whole look of the place, which provides residential and dementia care. And indeed, in what was clearly a slightly alarming move to the less artistically inclined team at Octopus, bought the painting of tango dancers that now hangs proudly above the fireplace in the entrance before building even commenced, informing the team that the entrance hall would have to be designed around the painting. Her design instincts were spot on, with the Octopus team quite playful about the incident, now they have the finished product.

Adams is also quick to praise her work ethic as well as her keen eye for design. “We are about eight weeks away from getting things ready at a reasonably timetable for CQC, but we only had three weeks and we did it in three weeks – that’s down to Linda. That morale she drives is going to go through into everything that the business does in excellence.”

Both her and Adams are hesitant to criticise others in the market, believing there is room for everyone but they are quietly confident that Aura Care will offer something above and beyond the other luxury offerings crowding their neighbourhood. Although, they dislike the label of luxury, preferring the term boutique.

“I want it to be like a hotel experience – if we all had money most people would want to stay in their favourite hotel until the end and have their care there,” says Lloyd. “This hasn’t really been offered before.”

Lloyd saw things in other homes that she felt could be done better given the price being paid – “why is someone paying £1,500 a week and still getting a trolley with a big silver urn and are lucky if they get a cup of tea in the morning?”

One of the differences in culture that Lloyd and her team have instilled is around rotas. “It starts at 7am and runs until 2am – most other operators don’t. Most operate from 8am to 5pm if I’m being honest”.

A particularly key difference according to the team is that Aura has put clinical value first. For a start, the managing director is Dr Bala Raju, a psychiatrist by background who owns a chain of private healthcare clinics – it is unusual to have a practicing doctor in the senior team of a care home, claims Adams and Lloyd. Raju has made sure the access to NS doctors, physiotherapists, hydrotherapy etc. is a priority and that the design first and foremost puts the residents first (the beds can be lowered to floor level and the fencing in the garden area for the dementia wing, is slightly different to elsewhere to prevent escapes, for example). “The real difference here is that there’s a clinically-led element, which is really providing a prompt response to care needs. If people can get their care quickly, many times problems don’t escalate” he explains.

Technology plays a key part in this with motion sensors in each room, all audits on patients being online and easily accessible and features such a tovertafel table being available for dementia residents. This table is one that has lights projected into it to create shapes and allows residents to play games with those shapes – it’s also a way to encourage the grandkids to visit and interact with the grandparents.

The best interactive experience and method of preventative care for them, though, is the outdoor space available. And so far residents are rarely ever spending much time in their rooms, says Raju, “because there’s a lot of space, the residents are out exploring”.

The cost of all this is between £1,350 and £1,550 per week, so punchy, but not the most expensive option around for those looking for a nice home for their parent.

So far, there are 10 residents, a mix of respite and permanent and by the end of the first month there will be 16. The team are confident that the home will be filled and with an ‘outstanding’ CQC rating within a couple of years.

The vision also extends far beyond just one home. Later this year, Aura will be opening a retirement village in Cirencester with a care home and 50-odd apartments, and has four further sites it plans to open care homes or villages on next year in Solihull, Henley-in-Arden, Hindhead and Topsham. Adams hints at a much longer pipeline. And, there are already plans underway to create extra care apartments on the top floor of Kings Lodge. So far. So confident then.

“There’s lots of competition in the luxury care sector but people are mainly doing it exactly the same way,” muses Adams. “I think there’s room for them all to be successful in what they do, but we’re trying to do it a different way, which will appeal to a certain type of person.”

Only time will tell if Lloyd’s tenacity and Adams’ faith will pay off in what is undoubtedly a tough and saturated market. But there’s no denying that on the surface so far, the future looks bright for Aura Care.

Source: HealthInvestor UK

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