Looking back at the last 5 years, what would you say are your highlights?
It’s difficult to pick out specific highlights but I suppose every time we get a host who understands the value of our model and whenever I hear a story of a client who has settled, and is benefitting, and is part of The Filo Project. I never ever tire of those kind of feedback stories. Another highlight would be when we venture into a new area and begin to grow and the ripple effect from that. When I think about what we have become in 5 years, when we started with 2 little groups in Mid Devon and how now we have 60 groups and support across the whole of Devon, and beyond.
It says a lot about the organisation that we attract such a high level of people who want to work with us, including obviously, our hosts, but also the leadership team.
Expansion is a definite highlight, but not for expansion’s sake – but it’s a constant validation of the model. That’s what comes back to me day after day, knowing the model is ‘right’ and understanding why it’s ‘right,’ and actually railing against conventional stereotypes. I love that. I love the fact that we do our own thing and we just do that one thing well.
What have been the key challenges you and the organisation has faced?
I think realising that an organisation such as ours is 100% people, so you’re dealing with the very best of people and sometimes the worst. Dealing with stressed carers can be challenging. Occasional staff issues can also be a challenge too because the continuity of the service is massively important. Trying to create a stable structure that is there most of the time, but given that people aren’t robots there’s always going to be some human frailty, despite our best efforts.
From a personal perspective feeling like I had too much work to do but didn’t quite know how to manage that. I had to learn how to delegate better and to let go. When you start something from scratch, because it’s our creation, you feel ownership of it and you have to learn to let go a little bit, which I’ve found quite hard.
Going back to the highlights, having an outstanding leadership team has meant that I have been able to delegate and cope with the ongoing growth.
Another challenge is penetrating the market, reaching people by whichever means is most effective. Trying to get people to listen to what we have to say, and for people to take time to think about something that’s not scientific and isn’t a medical process; for them to understand what the focus of our endeavours are, the focus of our model, which is based on treating people well. We’re not in some kind of frenzy trying to find a cure or therapy but what we do is slow everything down.
As a not-for-proft we prove that it is still possible to provide the best care as a business, sometimes it’s a challenge to get people to understand that, and frankly that’s what sustainability is. A challenge is for people to understand that for every pound spent with us will save money further down the road.
It’s interesting that we recently were unsuccessful in a funding bid, and were later informed that the panel didn’t understand the model, they thought this kind of care ‘should be happening anyway.’ The point is, it isn’t.
How has the social care landscape changed locally in the last 5 years?
There’s been a massive change in Devon, austerity has lead to a complete re-evaluation of the social care structure in Devon and difficult decision have had to be made. There have, though, been good and innovative changes because, certainly in Devon, the council is trying to look more at outcome based commissioning. However, in my view it is very easy to ‘talk the talk’ but I truly don’t think that’s how social care is widely commissioned because often the default will be the cheapest, regardless of the outcome.
There’s very little replacement (respite) care, certainly in Devon now, and we’ve seen a dramatic increase in stress on carers.
In terms of Social Care I think people are more enlightened around dementia than they were 5 years ago and the landscape of awareness around dementia has definitely improved in that time.
Looking at your crystal ball what do you think the next five years holds for The Filo Project?
I would like to think that we could carry on growing as we have. We want to grow and to reach more people, especially in areas where we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. I would think, all things being equal, in 2 years time we would be twice as big in Devon as we are now, and doing much the same in Somerset and possibly West Dorset. And possibly with the social franchising of the model being that much further down the line.
We’re now involved with a pilot project with The Northam Care Trust in Bideford to provide a similar model as ours to people with Down Syndrome who have dementia. This is for people living at home, often with elderly parents. It’s an exciting time and a huge compliment, knowing that another well-regarded organisation recognises the value of what we do and thinks we could do something really good for people with learning disabilities.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I suppose just to say that The Filo Project is about trying to pair things back really, to realise the value of human kindness, interaction and companionship and move away from the more generic type of conventional day care, which is so unpalatable to so many. Actually, this is where social care has changed in recent years because it has moved away from the warehousing/one size fits all model. It is often said to me that people with dementia ‘have choices’ with regard to their care, but the reality is that a lot of older people don’t have that choice because, in many areas, there’s nothing to choose from.
I keep going back to the idea that we do just one thing, and we do it well. It’s changing the culture around care, which is what we always said we wanted to do. To change the culture of what good care is, for the cared for, and what replacement care is for carers. For our hosts to be valued and recognised for the very detailed and wonderful work that they do.