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Putting innovation at the heart of services

Is key to driving customer wellbeingEveryone involved in governance is concerned with raising standards of care, especially in the field of dementia, but achieving that goal can be a challenge, as can evidencing it when we do.

Having spent the best part of a decade working on this question with the Belong executive team, it has become increasingly clear that the relentless pursuit of innovation is key, both to driving improvements and to evaluating the impact of new ideas to ensure they are making a difference.

The Belong brand launched just over ten years ago with the aim of creating unique village communities. It is a model which has evolved with experience of what works and what doesn’t and, as the number of villages has expanded, so too have the range of services, partnerships and initiatives.

Promoting active lives

One area that has contributed considerably to success in improving wellbeing has been physical activity, in particular personalised exercise programmes, facilitated by specialist, on-site gyms and dedicated exercise instructors. This has led to remarkable improvements in wellbeing, winning the organisation the Markel 3rd Sector Care Award for Innovative Quality Outcomes in 2018. In many instances, people with impaired mobility as a result of injury or illness have been able to walk unaided for the first time in years.

Technology too has, of course, been fundamental in driving service quality. The successful implementation of Person Centred Software and mobile devices for record-keeping and care planning was cited as a contributory factor to one village’s Outstanding rating by CQC inspectors. The technology has made it easier for teams to record and access information, giving relatives greater involvement with their loved ones’ lives through the electronic gateway and managers’ greater visibility of resident wellbeing to inform coaching and mentoring within teams and decision-making around service improvements.

Engaging with the arts

Numerous other initiatives are producing mounting evidence of the potential of engaging with arts and heritage to improve the wellbeing of people requiring care. ‘Where the Arts Belong’, is a ground-breaking three-year research project with Liverpool’s centre for the contemporary arts, Bluecoat, exploring how the arts can be effectively embedded into new care environments and improve the lives of people with dementia. The initial results of a pilot project, involving artist residencies and workshops at Belong Crewe, have been overwhelmingly positive.

Belong Newcastle-under-Lyme was the first care facility in the UK to incorporate a unique heritage gallery at its heart, created by transforming the town’s oldest building, an iconic local landmark with over 300 years of history, made possible by a £1.8 million grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. This has facilitated heritage-themed activity programmes and reminiscence therapies and provided a means of strengthening links with the local community, again attracting national attention for its positive impact for residents and the wider area.

Belong has also been at the forefront of industry efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity in care settings, so that everyone feels at home where they live, no matter who they are and what their background. This has included organising Crewe’s first Silver Pride event, a celebration of LGBT culture especially for older people, LGBT-themed reminiscence sessions and introducing training for staff on how to support residents who identify as LGBT. Belong’s sixth village to open, in Manchester, embraces Jewish culture to create an environment where members of the local Jewish community are assured that they can continue to practice their faith positively.

Evidence of impact

Underpinning Belong’s operation has always been a determination to improve outcomes for older people, and there continues to be evidence of the benefits of its community village model on quality of life. Efforts to measure the impact include working with the University of Salford, which produced its final report following a three-year research project investigating effects on service delivery, quality of life, staff satisfaction and the wider community.

The findings point to clear evidence of the benefits of the model, with customers at every stage of their journey reporting greater freedom to exercise choice and preferences, to live the way they want to and remain independent, as well as enjoying caring relationships and peace of mind.

Evidence of the quality of Belong’s services can also be seen in independent indicators, ranging from awards won to ratings earned, with three out of seven villages judged ‘outstanding’ by the Care Quality Commission. Recently, Belong was named best small residential care provider at the LaingBuisson Awards.

Extending access

There are now seven Belong villages, with two more scheduled to open in the next 18 months and a further two planned. The most recent to open, in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire, is the first outside of the North West region.

Belong is also raising the bar for standards of home care in the UK with its Belong at Home services, which offer high quality, bespoke care packages for people living independently at each of its villages and in the wider communities.

There has also been success in finding innovative ways of financing this expansion, including the launch of our first charity retail bond to fund the two villages currently under construction.

It only leaves me to thank the skilled and dedicated people who work at Belong’s villages. Without them, the advances in care made in the past decade would not have been possible.

It has been a privilege to lead the Belong Board and, as I leave the chairmanship in the capable hands of Nicola Brooks, I feel secure in the knowledge the organisation’s culture of innovation will continue to impact positively on people’s lives as it brings services to new areas.


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