Paul Foster, Executive Chair, Castleoak
It’s no secret to anyone in the sector that care homes have an image problem. But it’s when people from the outside say it out loud that it really hits home.
Some negative perceptions are purported by media and, sadly, some of these are based on personal experience. But working for a business that has partnered with operators for over 35 years, I know some of these perceptions are unfounded – or at least are the exception and not the rule. There are excellent examples of genuine and committed care, beautiful and stylish buildings in gorgeous settings, places that really feel like home, but with added support.
However, the problem remains that the care sector appears to be ‘unsexy’ and at the fringes of society. This perception is a direct barrier to innovation and to integrating care and the facilities that support it into our communities. Social care reform will undoubtedly help with improving the sector’s image by providing more stable foundations that can be built upon. But reform isn’t the only answer. We need to actively involve younger generations in conversations about care so we don’t continue to be the ‘forgotten sector’.
That’s why we’re partnering with the University of Oxford Student Consultancy to engage generations X, Y and Z in what future care homes should look like. The average age of a start-up founder is early 40s, so we need to be capturing the hearts and minds of younger people – like students from the University of Oxford – now so we can attract them to the sector and benefit from their talent and ideas.
First the students conducting the research had to start with perceptions. Only one in six respondents has a positive perception of care homes and care homes are typically associated with words like ‘smell’, ‘isolated’, ‘removed’ and ‘cheap’. This contrasted with words like ‘independent’, ‘home’ and ‘assisted’, which reflected the kind of environment that they wanted to live in when they were older.
The students identified key themes, including autonomy, individualism and connectivity and built on these with recommendations. They reflected on ideas consistent with design-led buildings, including how the very layout of a building can have a fundamental impact on encouraging integration and reducing isolation. How combining child day care facilities into care homes could help to maintain residents’ connection with their families, while helping to tackle familial issues associated with aging grandparents and rising childcare costs while providing a safe and assisted environment.
They explored emerging themes related to robotic care homes, AI diagnostics and autonomy-enabling technology. These are areas that might seem like distant ambitions, but we need to make haste in engaging people with those skills to ensure our sector becomes fit for the future.
Care is a growing sector which is crying out for innovation. We need to help younger generations to see the opportunity. And we need them to realise it’s a sector that they will one day experience first-hand, so they should have a say in how we shape future care environments.
The full report and focus group can be viewed on Castleoak’s website: www.castleoak.co.uk/thought-hub