Moving up north to run a retirement village is the most fantastic thing I have ever done (From The Northern Echo)
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Moving up north to run a retirement village is the most fantastic thing I have ever done
Jeremy Walford, director of Middleton Hall Retirement Village, near Darlington.
IN 1996, London-based consultant Jeremy Walford arrived at a retirement village in County Durham to give its management two days of advice after it hit financial crisis. Fast-forward 17 years, and he’s still there – although now he’s running the place.
“My two days became three months, because they asked me to do a rescue package, and late one Friday evening, when I was driving back to London, I stopped for a cup of tea, and thought, ‘Goodness me, I think I want to do this permanently.’ “I had fallen in love with the idea of what Middleton Hall could be. My then-girlfriend thought I had absolutely lost the plot to want to move to the north of England and run an old people’s home.
“I had never been to an old people’s home in my life before this, but it was a great site and it just felt right.”
Jeremy’s 17 years at the helm have seen a lot of changes at Middleton Hall, which is located near Middleton St George, near Darlington.
“We have totally revived the business,” he said. “It has moved from being a stalling care home to being the North-East’s premier retirement village.”
Since he took over the running, the business has seen a number of investments, including the creation of retirement apartments Middleton Woods, for people who can live independently, along with the assisted living complex Middleton Grove, for people who do not need residential care but who require more support.
The complex also retains residential and nursing care at Middleton Gardens and Middleton Court.
As well as a cafe, shops, a bar and restaurant and other communal services including sports and recreational facilities, under Jeremy’s leadership the village also now has a spa, with a spa pool, swimming pool and treatment rooms as well as an exercise room.
“It is about quality of life for our residents, and giving them the ability to enjoy life, regardless of age,” said Jeremy.
“It gives me a buzz to see our residents having a good time.”
Outside of work, Jeremy has another passion –ski trekking, which involves walking up the mountain before skiing back down.
“I like to keep myself fit and active. I think that is a big part of staying youthful.
“Remaining mentally active is a big part of it, as well as having a bit of a life. There is a lot to be said for just experiencing and enjoying life.
“If you had said to me 20 years ago I would be either living in the north or doing what I do, I would have questioned your sanity.
“But it is the most fantastic thing I have ever done.”
Five minutes with... Jeremy Walford
Favourite North-East building and why.
Obviously I would have to choose Middleton Hall Retirement Village – a fine collection of Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian listed buildings with extensive recent additions set in beautiful countryside between Darlington and Yarm.
What was your first job and how much did you get paid?
I worked as a rather incompetent farm hand during school and university holidays – despite my dubious performance, including giving the dairy herd rather badly upset stomachs (not good in a milking parlour), I was paid £1 per hour, which were riches beyond belief for a debt ridden student in 1979.
What is the worst job you've had?
Working as a door to door salesperson. It might have been ok if I had been given any training and had any confidence in the product (which I didn’t). At least it taught me to only work at jobs you truly believe in, something I believe is incredibly important given the amount of our lifetime we spend at work.
What would you cook for me if I came around for dinner?
Kedgeree or if it was Sunday, roast free-range chicken with bread sauce and lots of vegetables.
What would your superpower be?
Time travel – I would like to meet both my grandfathers, neither of whom I met. Apparently I am very like one of them in look, mannerisms and even business, despite the fact that he died 15 years before I was born.
Name four people, dead or alive, who would be at your perfect dinner party.
Nelson Mandela, for his forgiving nature and inspiring leadership; David Gower, to talk cricket and choose the wine; my beautiful partner Ruth, to remind me how lucky I am; and Anita Roddick, to discuss the mess we are making of the planet and how ethical businesses should be run.
Most expensive thing you've bought - other than car or house - and how much?
Probably my bicycle (£900) bought last year through our cycle to work scheme. Quite a revelation having a bike that really works for the first time in my life.
Who is the best person to follow on Twitter and why?
Actually, shock horror, I am not on Twitter. And before you ask, no, I don’t use Facebook either. Life is quite busy enough already, although I do have a LinkedIn profile.
“Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks - a remarkably vivid picture of the terrible reality of life in the trenches of the First World War. It puts our cosseted and cushy existence into context.
When did you last cry?
Reading Penguins Stop Play by Harry Thompson on holiday – tears of uncontrollable laughter (the trying not to giggle in the back row at school type) followed several chapters later by tears of a different kind from the very sad ending.
What is your greatest achievement?
Turning Middleton Hall from a struggling care home to what has recently been judged to be the best retirement village in the UK. Although it has been incredibly hard work, the buzz I get from talking to residents and staff whose lives we have made a real difference to, is a real privilege.
What's the best piece of advice in business you've ever been given?
“Better, cheaper or faster” – a lecturer at my business school near London cheerfully repeated this mantra (in a strong South Yorkshire accent) about every company we looked at. His point was that a business has to be different from the competition in one of these respects to succeed. We have always aimed to be “better” at Middleton Hall.
Favourite animal and why.
Leopard. I watched one hunting in Tanzania while I was back packing in Africa – extraordinary grace and power.
Most famous person on your mobile phone.
I am not sure anyone on my mobile phone (yes, I do at least have one of those, just not to access Twitter or Facebook) would count as famous.
What was the last band you saw live?
Fusion – my partner’s new band.
Describe your perfect night in.
A few close friends, bottle of decent wine and some nibbles.
In another life I would be...
...opening the batting for England against Australia at Lords. Perhaps not the most realistic alternative career, but we can all dream.
Who would play you in a film of your life?
Not sure a film about my life would be a blockbuster, so I’ll stick with my cricket fantasy above.
What irritates you?
Waste. Waste energy, waste food, waste packaging, wasted time, government waste. In fact the “throw away” and short term society that we are all part of. Best not to get me going on this subject...
What's your secret talent?
Skimming stones - left and right handed.