By Nick Travis, partner at Smith & Williamson
This article was originally published in Smith & Williamson’s Enterprise magazine, a thought leadership publication for entrepreneurs and growth companies.
There are easier ways to make a living than running care homes: first you must find a way to provide some of society’s most vulnerable children with a nurturing environment that allows them to recover from trauma and fulfill their potential; you also need to navigate the minefield of local council and central government funding; you need to find staff in a tough market. Yet for Paul Callander, it has been his life’s work.
He joined the business in 2014 after 30+ years working in care provision across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. Previous roles had included working with vulnerable adults with learning disabilities, autism, and brain injuries as managing director of Lifeways Group and group director of Ravenscroft Group. He has worked in outsourced elderly care services as CEO for Manchester Care. He says:
“This is a really difficult sector to work in. It can be completely thankless. Equally, people can see it as the ‘dark side’, a privately-run company providing services to local authorities. But it’s not like that. It’s full of good people who want to make a difference. We recognise we have an emotional contract.”
He admits that if he’d started out with making money in mind, he’d have found an easier route!
Horizon Care was in a bit of a mess, Paul was hired by the company’s private equity backer at the time, Stage Capital, to address low occupancy rates and some reputation problems with local authorities and regulators. It was telling that his first senior hire was not a ‘money man’ but an HR and organisation development director supporting his view that “it’s all about people”.
Horizon Care has come a long way since. There is a new PE backer, Graphite Capital who has significant experience in investing in children’s services. Paul has presided over a significant change in the company’s culture. Today it caters for a full range of emotional and behavioural difficulties, plus physical disabilities. He says: “We serve a massive range of needs. To my mind, it is the most important part of health and social care. Abused children are taken into care up to the age of 18. They are removed from their families; the majority are sexually abused. Their lives may involve physical violence, gangs, drugs. We take them to a place of safety and get them into a stable position.”
He doesn’t believe similar services could be provided by the state for the same price. A significant amount of the company’s profits are ploughed back into training via the group’s learning and development arm. It has a vast therapeutic team:
“It’s a serious investment. There is no-one in the public sector that can provide this type of therapeutic team. We run 14 special schools, 50 care homes and 375 transitional care flats across three operational divisions.”
A more recent initiative has been to move into ‘transitional’ provision, with the acquisition of Key2 (the largest independent provider of TS in the UK). Today, young people can sign themselves out of residential care at 16, but can’t get Universal Credit housing benefit until they are 18. “What happens? They end up on the streets, sofa surfing or even go back to their abusers. We have built up our transitional care services, which ensures people leave care in an orderly way – into full time training or in work.
Paul says they encounter extreme behavioural problems. They deal with many children who are the victims of child sexual exploitation and come to them with significant behavioural disturbances. The first thing they do is to make clear it is not their fault. They set clear standards of behaviour, helping the children understand that they don’t need to act in a certain way.
This is resource-intensive: the schools have a pupil/teacher ratio of around 5:1. As far as possible, it is designed to be a bespoke education, while helping them to control behaviour so they can learn.
Paul says: “The investment we put is in huge. Our buildings and schools are top notch. To my mind, we overspend on the capital side and we wouldn’t have it any other way. It is all centred on the child. We take our duty of care very seriously. It is very much about the child and not about being right all the time.”
That means if a child needs extra support that isn’t supplied by the local authorities, they will get it. It also means the business can attract good people, says Paul, who share in the vision of the company. He adds: “One of my senior team left a major health authority and came to work for me in 2015. The public sector can be restrictive and we can be more flexible in our decision-making.”
That said, there is no ‘us and them’ with the public sector. They respect the public purse and share many of its values and ambitions. They work closely with Ofsted, as is necessary, and all the group’s facilities are subject to considerable scrutiny. The internal compliance team is answerable directly to Paul, so he ensures he is the first to hear about any problems.
Paul recognises that he needs to be an advocate for the children who come to Horizon Care. As such, he is significantly involved in local/ central government forums, explaining the problems in children’s services and trying to secure improvements.
“Children services tend to fly under the radar and are misunderstood. Care can be very ad hoc.”
His long-term ambition for Horizon Care is far-reaching: “I want every child in care to come to Horizon Care. I know that’s impossible, but that is my ambition, I know I can do the best for them.”