George Coxon is the owner and director of two small care homes in Devon. Pottles Court, which has to have the best care home name EVER, and Summercourt, both of which live by the philosophy of homely homes for life.
When George and I talked he told me, in no uncertain terms, that people who come to live in Pottles Court and Summercourt do just that: they arrive and move in. They’re not admitted, a word more suited to hospitals. How very refreshing.
In fact George Coxon seems altogether refreshing. For a start he’s unusual in the care sector in that he came to it from the NHS; if people do make the transfer, it’s normally the other way round. He trained first as a mental health nurse and then as a specialist community psychiatric nurse before buying his first care home in 2005 while continuing to work in the NHS until 2012. Now he’s making it his business to help bring about integration of the two services through his roles on various trusts, boards and networks.
In a Ted talk a couple of years ago George asked his audience to think of words which, for them, conjured up the single most important element of care home life. Top of George’s own list was the word Kind. Closely followed by Keen, Safe, Fun, Curiosity and Fresh, from fresh ideas to that inviting, fresh scent that we’d all like to greet us when we visit our mum in a care home, and so often doesn’t.
To hear the list of words that inform George’s attitude to care homes is to understand the man. For him, guarding his residents’ fun is as important as guarding their safety. The final word on his list is Time. Too often, says George, there’s a polarity between busy care home staff and bored residents.
The pandemic has been nothing short of a catastrophe for so many care homes. For Pottles Court and Summercourt, where personal care is just one small part of everyone’s lives and the emphasis is on fun, it was a huge blow. George told me the crucial factors for people living in his care homes are: having things to look forward to, having time to reflect on the past, receiving and giving affection, and feeling useful. During the Covid crisis they were denied them all.
“People were bunkered,” George says. “It felt punitive. We normally have a calm, easy-going atmosphere and in many ways when life was limited for safety reasons, that caused more harm”.
He admits that last year was challenging in terms of communication and documentation, and says the key to meeting those challenges is good teamwork.
“Care homes,” he says, “touch every base. I can unquestionably say with absolute sincerity that work in progressive, energised care homes provides a special kind of buzz and thrill to those associated with them. There is nothing like the satisfaction you get from life in a great care home – as a resident, a worker or an owner”.