MI5’s loss is care world’s gain for boss who spied her opportunity

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Meeting Leanne Silverwood, you can see why she has succeeded in the people business.

Warm, funny, energetic and sharp, she talks with passion about challenges in healthcare and the team at the centre of her business.

That said, Leanne didn’t take a standard route to become director at Local Care Force. She originally had a very different career in mind.

“I did criminology at university,” she says. “My ambition was always to join MI5.”

Ultimately, an interest in mental health led her to launch the business and take it from zero to £7.6m turnover in some of the toughest years for the healthcare sector.

As Local Care Force celebrates its 10th anniversary, it is on target to break the £10m turnover barrier this year. It now has an office in Sheffield, as well as its head office in Leeds, and is preparing to open a third in Manchester, The company supplies qualified nurses and support workers to care settings, as well as direct care to people in the community. Its clients include NHS trusts, Leeds City Council and leading learning disability organisation Mencap.

Despite its rapid growth – 24 to 32 per cent year-on-year – it has achieved a ‘perfect’ inspection rating from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) for the last seven years.

Consistency comes up repeatedly in our conversation.

“Consistency is so important, say when you’re looking after someone with dementia, or someone with autism or a severe mental illness,” she says. “You can’t have that sort of illness and have a different face every day.”

As a former mental health service support worker, she has seen this. Leanne’s experience is one of the reasons you’ll never see her wearing a suit.

“If someone comes into a care setting wearing a suit and a tie, people who live in the service will think they’re either a copper or a social worker coming to move them,” she says. “It’s about being a bit clever.”

Leanne and her business partner Samuel Rutsito, whose background is in supporting people with learning disabilities, know the type of challenges workers can face on the frontline.

The pair pride themselves on looking after staff. More than 80 per cent of Local Care Force’s permanent employees are there after five years, with many ‘temporary’ workers staying long-term.

“We’ve kept the training consistent, we’ve kept pay rates consistent, we’ve looked after people throughout the recession, and our business has grown,” she says.

To make sure Local Care Force’s workers are properly supported, all office staff have to go through the same care training as those on the frontline do.

“We’re not just office bods,” Leanne says. “They have to keep up to date and do the same care training the nurses do once a year. “People in the office will often be guiding people on shift and have to understand the person’s illness to react properly.”

The mental health team, for example, undergo personality disorder training and Mental Health Act training, including understanding deprivation of civil liberties.

Leanne’s commitment to development led her to set-up an in-house training company in 2008. Through the recession, Local Care Force bucked the trend of moving to online training, instead investing and developing its own courses.

“While a lot of competitors were reducing costs, we wouldn’t budge, we stayed where we were,” she says.

Ultimately, it has paid dividends, with a loyal client base supported by long-term staff.

Incidences of abuse in care settings rocketed during the economic crisis, she says, partly due to some companies looking to save money through training.

“If you have ill-trained staff, mistakes are made,” she says. This can include not being aware of issues like dignity, she says.

“Dignity is such a big deal; not knowing that somebody needs to choose their own clothes, or needs to wear their glasses in a morning, that’s a big part of it.”

As well as mandatory training, Leanne invests heavily in personal development for her workforce. Having quit university without a degree and worked her way through the ranks, she is proof that there are many roads to success.

She explains: “The most important thing for me is to grow a local workforce in respect of people who need development.

“We take on a lot of apprentices, we like to invest in the younger workforce, and we like to promote people from within. A lot of recruiters only take on graduates, but there’s very few people here who are graduates. Because of my background, I don’t hold as much stock on whether people have an education or whether they don’t.”

As the company celebrates its success, it is preparing to host an all-expenses paid party at Leeds’ Corn Exchange to thank its staff, including its 1,000-plus temporary workers, for their contribution to the business.

“It’s quite common in recruitment to schmooze your customers, ours is about the staff,” she says.

The company has become a family affair. Brother Adam Silverwood is nursing team manager, dad Carl is senior trainer and mum Wendy is compliance manager.

Leanne remains hands-on in the running of the company, something she refuses to give up.

“We’re a family business and we want to keep the quality in check,” she says.

“I still want to pick up the phone to our lovely old dears, and answer requests for support for someone who has chosen to go home to die.

“It’s humbling. I don’t ever want to stop taking those calls, because they’re important.”