Suffolk Business Awards: Listening to staff drives success for Stow Healthcare

Students attend a workshop day hosted by Suffolk social care chain Stow Healthcare

As well as training and developing its own staff, Stow Healthcare has continued to work with sixth forms and colleges to introduce students to the care sector - Credit: Stow Healthcare

The social-care sector has had a tough time through the pandemic, yet Suffolk’s Stow Healthcare has not only expanded but also succeeded in picking up awards – including the Suffolk Business Awards’ Education in Business Award, sponsored by Suffolk New College and West Suffolk College.

“It's fantastic for us and we are really proud of the success, when we were up against so many great businesses in the area," says operations manager Alex Ball. “This is something we work really hard on for our staff, so to get this recognition is fantastic – we're delighted.”

Stow Healthcare collect the Education in Business Award at the Suffolk Business Awards

A positive, practical and inclusive approach won Stow Healthcare the Education in Business Award - Credit: Matthew Potter Photographer and Videographer

The Stow team is passionate about promoting careers in social care, highlighting the great opportunities and the rewarding work. The group, which operates eight centres across Suffolk and Norfolk, has strong connections with local schools and sixth forms. “Before Covid, young people would come to us and we would do a practical learning day for them," Alex explains.

This practical approach underpins the approach to staff development. “Why sit people in front of a screen and talk to them, when that's not what their job is or how they learn?” asks Alex.

“We do a lot of practical training because the majority of our staff are doing practical jobs.”

Alex Ball of Stow Healthcare

Stow Healthcare's Alex Ball is passionate about promoting the opportunities with the social care sector - Credit: Stow Healthcare

Stow has developed its own in-house Care Home Assistant Practitioner (CHAP) training programme, working with Norfolk-based Training And Assessment in Healthcare. This uses a lot of practical exercises – such as rooms set up with hazards to identify, or scenarios to check staff understand how care plans should be followed. 

“It is all direct and relatable to their jobs, so people can take it in, and it makes an impact,” explains Alex. “It’s all about making it memorable and meaningful, because there's no point in training to just tick a box.”

Stow Healthcare training session at a Suffolk care home

Stow Healthcare uses lots of practical training exercises to ensure skills are passed on effectively - Credit: Stow Healthcare

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This is critical as Stow Healthcare takes on and turns around homes that have been failing. “Part of that is to turn the culture of the staff around and improve their understanding and the quality of what they're delivering,” Alex says. 

This has continued even through the pandemic, with the group taking on one new home, opening a dedicated Covid facility and also developing a new centre for residents with memory challenges. “It's not good enough to use Covid as an excuse to stand still,” says Alex. “We looked at what we were doing, made some changes, but we've continued to push forward.

“What the pandemic has taught us is there are lots of way to deliver that training,” she adds. “We haven’t just relied on e-Learning." There have been online sessions, delivered both by members of the Stow team and by its external training partner, but as many of the staff in the homes are trained to deliver training, plenty of practical work continued as well. 

Hands under UV light showing if they've been effectively cleaned

Clean hands? Students learn the importance of careful hygiene on a visit to a Stow Healthcare home - Credit: Stow Healthcare

“We're quite a small team, but we're innovative and agile which lets us create innovative training opportunities,” Alex says. “It’s driven not just by the central team but very much at the level of the individual homes.

“For us it's about listening to the staff: what they want from their training and their personal development at work, creating a place for them to build their careers,” she says. "For instance, we have staff going through the nursing associate programme at the local university, on the pathway to become graduating nurses with us in the future.” 

This approach sets Stow apart – not only within the region but also within the social care sector. The firm won the Workforce Development Award at the 2021 Great British Care Awards, and Alex won the Workforce Development Leader title at the Care Talk awards. Stow Healthcare was also named Care Group of the Year in both the National Care Awards and Care UK Awards. 

“It’s fantastic to be recognised among the local businesses,” concludes Alex. "To be at the Suffolk Business Awards, representing the social care sector, is great for us.”

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