Since 1995 I have owned and managed Cloud 9 Care, a company that provides social care to support people to live as independently as possible in their own homes. People are at the core of the business, both staff and clients. A lot of our work is with people who are approaching the end of their lives and during the pandemic we were often the only human contact that people had.
I’ve really no idea why I decided to go into this field; with hindsight I can see that God was nudging me in this direction, but at the time, it seemed to be just a business opportunity. During the last 2 years I have been quite certain that I was right where God wanted me to be.
I have had the great privilege to put into action the words of the hymn Brother, Sister let me serve you:
I will hold the Christ-light for you
In the night time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you;
Speak the peace you long to hear.
Social care is in the news a lot at the moment; the pandemic finally alerted people to the reality of our dependence on carers, both in care homes and in the community. I always say that, no matter how brilliant my admin team are and how hard I might work, the carers are the people who make our service what it is; they are the beating heart of the service we provide. They are the smiling face that greets a lonely, bed-bound client; they are the reassuring hand that settles someone for the night.
I’ve always tried to be a fair and decent employer and I want my staff to know they are respected for their commitment to doing a job that is not always very pleasant. I have no doubt that this is driven by my faith; the traditional hierarchical model of management doesn’t sit well with me. We work as a team and value and support one another. Jesus always saw into the hearts of people and the raggle-taggle bunch of disciples that he recruited transformed the world. In the same way I try to look for the best in my staff and help them to grow into great carers that can transform the lives of the people they support.
Valuing staff is not just about paying them well, although that’s often the only measure that is used. It’s about how you care for them, in the wider sense. We recognize that many of our staff have messy, complicated lives and struggle to cope when unexpected problems crop up. We try to support them by offering flexible hours, running a Christmas savings club and providing small loans to cover emergencies.
I try to listen to my staff and make them feel their opinions matter; they are the ones at the coalface, so I think it’s vital to give them a voice.
I sit down with every member of my team and listen to what they say and how they are feeling. Everyone has my number and they can call me at any time – not just about work issues, but anything that worries them. Very rarely do people abuse that.
I am part boss, part marriage counselor, part financial advisor. I think the most extreme thing I’ve volunteered to do is to escort one of my team to HMP Holloway to visit her daughter on remand, but more generally I’ve written letters to landlords, dealt with bailiffs and paid people’s fines. It’s quite like parenting!
In return I have an amazingly dedicated and committed team – I have 3 staff who will be celebrating 25 years employment with me next year. This is a sector where there is a huge turnover of staff, so I feel blessed to have such a loyal team.
When I became involved with Salt, back before the pandemic, I was inspired to commit to paying the Real Living Wage. It was one of those light-bulb moments when I realized that this was something that I needed to do. Once I’d committed to it I just forged ahead. It needed a little price bump upwards, but nothing exceptional. I was honest with our clients and explained that the price increase was to ensure our staff were properly rewarded. Not one person objected. You can over-think things sometimes;
Rachel Van Staveren