How Paula Broadbent at Engie is working with older people to find the right living solutions

Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Engie. Picture: Tony Johnson.
Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Engie. Picture: Tony Johnson.
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Helping older people live a dignified life has become a passion for Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Engie, writes Ismail Mulla.

Paula Broadbent ended up in adult social care “purely by chance” but speaking to her you would never assume that this wasn’t her initial career choice.

Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Engie. Picture: Tony Johnson

Paula Broadbent, retirement solutions director at Engie. Picture: Tony Johnson

The retirement solutions director at Engie is passionate about ensuring older generations have a dignified and comfortable end to their lives.

It’s a mission that comes as a result of her own personal experience and from seeing first-hand how a different approach to housing for elderly people can make a big difference.

“When I left school, I desperately wanted to be a hairdresser and I started an apprenticeship as a hairdresser,” she says. “Unfortunately I suffered quite severe dermatitis and was told by my GP that this isn’t the job for you.”

Ms Broadbent wasn’t sure what she wanted to do but had a passion for vehicles.

“I had a motorbike at the time that I used to strip down and rebuild,” she says. “I tried looking at becoming a motor mechanic.”

However, at that time in the late 80s opportunities for women in that industry didn’t exist, Ms Broadbent said. Instead, she had an aunt who worked for care home provider Anchor.

“She was finding it very difficult to fill all of the shifts,” Ms Broadbent said. “She approached me because I had done some agency work in a care home previously.”

Initially Ms Broadbent was only due to work three nights a week with her aunt saying that she wouldn’t be having any interaction with the residents.

Ms Broadbent said: “I never imagined myself having a career of working with older people but within three months of starting I went full-time.

“I just found the difference that you can make to someone’s life through interaction and treating them with respect as individuals very rewarding.

“I had a natural ability and affinity with that age group and it just grew from there.”

While having a passion for making a difference in older people’s lives, Ms Broadbent quickly realised that she wasn’t in favour of the residential care model.

Ms Broadbent said: “A resident can move in who is quite independent and strong-willed but very quickly become institutionalised. Ultimately, you then saw the aging process kick in and then people become dependent.”

From Anchor she moved onto Sanctuary Housing where she started focusing on specialist housing for older people.

Ms Broadbent would eventually move to Hanover Housing before having a short stint at Housing 21 in the North-East.

Towards the end of 2005 she joined North Yorkshire County Council as began to decommission residential care homes and replace them with extra care housing.

The extra care housing model provides people the opportunity to live in housing with access to care and support around the clock.

It was at the council that Ms Broadbent commissioned work to map out exactly where older people were living across the county.

The research then looked at what suitable housing was available. On top of that, the research mapped out what amenities and provisions were available that would help with the aging process.

In 2009 she was approached by Keepmoat to utilise her place shaping expertise for the house builder.

Ms Broadbent said: “They wanted to better understand their clients. As a regeneration specialist, they predominantly worked with local authorities and housing associations. They’d been very active in the specialist housing field and they wanted to do more.

“Ultimately, my appointment with them was to lead on understanding their client base and understanding their partners.”

This is where Engie’s Lifestyle proposition started taking shape. The multinational infrastructure and services business acquired Keepmoat Regeneration in May 2017 and Ms Broadbent is now Engie’s UK lead on the ‘silver economy’.

The first development the Lifestyle business delivered was in Walton, Wakefield. The development is an extension of the existing community.

There is a variety of house types but all of them are built with the aging process in mind so that they can be adapted for people as they get older. A range of provisions are built around the community.

Engie has around 2,000 employees across the region. The Lifestyle team has five people at the moment.

However, the business is recruiting for a managing director. It will also be recruiting another four to five people in March.

Ms Broadbent’s work was recognised by the company when she was given an innovation award.

“I would say the greatest achievement is launching Lifestyle,” Ms Broadbent said. “Influencing a private sector organisation to enter into what had been seen as quite a risky market but to do so in such a different way.”

Her passion for helping elderly people also stems from her own experience.

Ms Broadbent’s mother-in-law ended up with lung cancer while her grandmother suffered from pulmonary fibrosis.

“Both had a real passion for life and a real drive for independence,” Ms Broadbent said. “I had to make sure they had the opportunity to die at home and they did.”

The retirement solutions director wants the government to do more to provide suitable housing provisions for elderly people.

She said: “We’ve got a creaking National Health Service. The more we can keep people well at home the better we can sustain our NHS.

“The demand is increasing. It’s not even plateauing. We are way behind where we need to be. We’ve been investing and focusing on first-time buyers in isolation for too long.

“I get quite frustrated by the fact that we’re not investing the same amount of energy and money into the last-time buyer or the last-time mover as we are into the first-time movers. That’s something that the government could do.”

Whether it’s influencing industry or government, Ms Broadbent’s desire to help older people is clear to see.

Curriculum vitae

Title: Retirement solutions director

Date of birth: 13/02/68

Lives: Wyke

Favourite holiday destination: Caribbean

Last book read: The Secret

Favourite film: Polar Express

Favourite song: Stairway to Heaven, Led Zeppelin

Car driven: Mercedes GLC

Most proud of: Thirty-one years married and two wonderful children

Education: BTECH Business A-level Art and English Language