Executive Insights – Interview with Paul Morgan, Audley Group
Paul Morgan, Managing Director at Audley Group, reveals how Audley Retirement Villages responded to the pandemic while protecting some of the most vulnerable people in society, and what the future holds for the UK retirement village sector.
How did a business that looks after some of the most vulnerable people in society cope with the pandemic?
In short, very swiftly. It was apparent from the information we were receiving in February that COVID19 was going to have a profound effect on our sector, individual property owners (residents) and customers. At that point, we were hearing that the over 70’s were at the greatest risk. The average age of our owners is 78, therefore it was clear we needed to act quickly. It wasn’t a question of “closing down”, we firstly needed to create alternatives. Because of the nature of our business we couldn’t just close the food and beverage options or the opportunity to exercise and keep active for our owners. Once we had a program of being able to home deliver hot and cold food offerings, we closed our restaurants ahead of the government lock down. Our restaurants are open to the local communities as well as our owners, so in order to create a safe “bubble” in our villages we needed to cease all external access.
Whilst the gyms and pools were closed, our club managers set up physical “touring workouts” whereby they would walk around our villages and stop off to conduct classes in view of peoples apartment balconies and gardens, as well as positing classes on our village Apps. In order to create a shield around our villages we needed to provide alternatives to the owners needing to leave the village. Our villages are very much geared towards independent living, so it was a case of offering alternatives, not trying to force people to change behaviours. We created a “Pantry” in each village. At the point when the country was seemingly running low on toilet roll, pasta and flour, we were able to order a list of 30 essential items from our trade suppliers and hold stock levels for people to shop from. In addition to this our teams visited local supermarkets once a week for any owners who required further provisions.
All in all, once the crisis management team had identified alternative methods of operating, we were able to set up alternatives and effectively lock down the villages within the space of one week. However, the overriding message was to try and maintain as normal a life as possible.
All businesses had to adapt to new working practices – which of those new practices will see an enhancement of your service offering?
I’m sure most businesses will agree that the use of technology was accelerated through the pandemic, and we were no different. We had launched an Audley Villages App in 2019 and it mainly offered access to menus, class bookings and a way to contact the General Manager etc. In the first few weeks of the pandemic this was hugely expanded, and now connects directly to external channels, Audley’s Club activities, Audley’s You Tube pages, two-way communication on and off the village and news feeds – and it continues to be developed.
In many businesses the importance of communication is often highlighted, and the response we saw from the increased levels of communication with our owners, team members and external customers has demonstrated how effective enhanced communication is. From physically writing updates (at least twice a week and sometimes more at the height of the pandemic), to holding weekly video calls between the village forums and the General Managers, and bi-weekly video calls between members of the Audley Board and owner representatives to provide updates and anticipate future management of the situation. Behind the scenes we set up our own 7 days-a-week track and trace calls in February with every General Manager. These concentrated on every owner and team member and tracked any symptoms so we could put the appropriate isolation periods in place as and when required.
This level of communication and the free-flowing nature of it was a significant contributor to the 100+ compliment letters we received through March & April for the handling of the pandemic, and will be adapted and used to maintain an enhanced level of shared information between the Audley central office, the local teams and our owners.
As with all service industries, nothing is possible without a strong team, how have your people responded?
We couldn’t ask for a stronger, more responsive team. In the last survey of our 800 team members 96% of them highlighted that they are proud to work for Audley. This level of engagement helped enormously as we asked people to adjust their job roles by helping our care teams on the frontline and undertaking tasks they normally wouldn’t dream of. We trained front of house teams in basic cookery skills in case a whole kitchen team needed to be isolated and trained all team members in methods of touch point cleaning. Team members donned exercise kits to assist with daily exercise routines, whilst kitchen teams helped with gardening.
The level of cooperation was incredible and a testament to the culture running through the veins of this company. Alongside these great examples, our HR team were sending out “Audley Team Talking Points” two or three times a week to explain government guidance, our own policy changes, and how they would be paid if they were isolated. The information sent to our owners was also sent to our teams to ensure continuity of messaging. ARCO, the trade association for Retirement villages published a Roll of Recognition whereby owners and team members could nominate people “who went over and above” during the pandemic. Audley’s team members accounted for 33% of all nominees.
What does the future hold for the Retirement Village sector and how has the pandemic affected it’s growth potential?
Following the entry into the market of institutional investors and increased awareness of the sector in recent years, the number of retirement villages is growing across the country. The opportunity though is still huge. In the UK less than 0.5% of retirees live within a Retirement Village compared with double digit %’s across New Zealand, Australia, the USA and other countries.
The way in which the Retirement Village sector is able to demonstrate the incredibly low infection rate through the pandemic, coupled with the sense of community people experienced and the enjoyment they gained from the additional activities, interest groups, celebrations and continuation of routines, puts it in a very strong position. People living in large family houses who were effectively cut off from society, was not the experience of people living within a Retirement Village. And, let’s not forget that with Personal Care on hand, it is a very desirable alternative to the traditional care home.
Retirement Villages were on the rise anyway, and the recent pandemic has demonstrated what a great way to live it is. Don’t take my word for it, ask our owners – most of whom will tell you “don’t leave it too long to move to a Retirement Village, these are the best years of your life – enjoy them!”.
Managing Director, Audley
Paul has been with Audley since 2007, working with the senior team to create the successful business it is today. Previously Paul held senior roles within various hotel companies and that high level of hospitality experience is the cornerstone to the successful operating business within Audley.
As well as being responsible for the success of Audley Villages and Audley Care’s management, Paul is overseeing the business’s drive towards achievement of ISO45001 in Occupational Health and Safety, the creative application of various innovations into the business as well as ensuring the workforce is recruited and fit for the opportunity the housing with care sector is meeting.
Following the success of Audley’s operation, the delivery of a successful Mayfield brand is now in his and his teams’ sights.