Care Matters is making a difference to the lives of an increasing number of people across the North-East. PETER BARRON sees the impact the homecare specialist is having on one family…

THERE’S a slight nod of approval and a smile of satisfaction as Ken Longstaff settles back in his wheelchair and assesses his latest painting – a refreshing summer view of an azure sea on the Greek island of Crete.

It’s a dull, cold winter’s day outside in Darlington, and painting is Ken’s greatest escape. It brings colour into his life, and it wouldn’t be possible without his dedicated carer Anne Hankin.

“She’s much more than a carer,” says Ken. “It’s like having another member of the family.”

Anne, a member of the team at Care Matters, has been Ken’s principal carer for four years, and she makes the world of difference to his life.

“It’s all the little things that add up,” adds Ken’s wife, Bev, who works as a patient administrator at Woodlands Hospital. “Without having that support from Anne and Care Matters, our lives would be unbearable.”

The long list of little things includes helping Ken – a talented artist – to squeeze tubes of paint onto a palette, so he can indulge in his passion.

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“It takes a special person and the word ‘carer’ isn’t enough for what people like Anne do,” insists Bev. “Personal assistant is more like it.”

Ken’s life was devastated 11 years ago when he was struck down by a rare neurological condition called Guillan Barre Syndrome. The condition left the former mechanic in a locked-in state for seven weeks. Doctors were convinced he would die but he fought through and now requires 24-hour care.

He’s had a tracheotomy and relies on a ventilator to breathe; he can’t feed himself; has to drink through a straw; and requires a hoist for bathing, going to the toilet, and getting him into bed.

With NHS funding, Care Matters provides a team of expert carers for Ken, with Anne devoting around 50 hours a week. Mondays, Tuesdays and Fridays are her full days, starting at 7.45am. She does half-days on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, plus an hour on Sunday mornings.

Other carers – mainly Alex Ardeleanu, along with Ebere Nwanku, Mady Paun, and Miriam Balogun – look after the night shifts, staying next to Ken while he sleeps, and responding to whatever needs he has.

“We have such a wide range of clients with different needs, and Ken is one of our complex cases, but we always strive to match the right carers to the right clients,” says Michelle Broom (pictured below), registered manager for Care Matters Darlington, who brings a wealth of experience in the care sector.

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“It’s wonderful to see a relationship working as well as it does with Ken and Anne, with the backing of the other carers. That’s what it’s all about for us.”

A key to the success of the relationship is that Ken and Anne have a lot in common, including a love of art.

Anne has a degree in the History of Design, and a masters in Cultural Studies, so they complement each other. As well as helping Ken with his own paintings, Anne has also been instrumental in helping him to establish a ‘well-being art group’ that meets regularly at Darlington Hippodrome Theatre and is, fittingly, called The Art of Survival.

“It’s a shared interest and I’ve learned so much from Anne about the philosophy of art. As well as running the art group, we visit art galleries together, and I’d lose all of that if it wasn’t for her,” says Ken. “I’d feel very isolated – it would be terrible.”

Anne’s also a keen parkrunner, so the pair often spend Saturday mornings in South Park. She runs the 5k course, while Ken enjoys chatting to friends in the fresh air, while giving the family dog, Darcie, an outing at the same time.

In addition, they share an interest in gardening, wildlife, and bowling. Ken’s a member of Darlington South Park Bowls Club, winning trophies in disabled events, and it’s another activity he and Anne can enjoy together.

Anne was new to the care sector when she joined Care Matters, having previously worked in education, but she clearly loves her job: “At first, I wasn’t sure what it would be like but I’ve been really lucky to care for Ken because we have all those things in common, and I get real satisfaction from knowing I’m helping to give him a quality of life that’s as good as it can be,” she says.

While the main focus clearly has to be on Ken, the importance of what the support means to Bev shouldn’t be underestimated – it’s about her quality of life too.

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The couple have been married for 42 years this month. They have a son, James; a daughter, Jaki; and two grandchildren, Max, 9 and Finn, 7, with another on the way.

As well as working at Woodlands Hospital, Bev estimates that she devotes around 40 hours a week to caring for her husband.

“Having Care Matters means that we can have a life – not the life we had before, but we’ve forged a different life,” she says.

“It means I can go to work, so that gives us funds, and with Anne we know she’ll do so much more than you might expect of a carer. Even things like washing some dishes up for me, emptying the dishwasher, or washing Ken’s bedding. They may seem trivial things but they’re massive to me, and I’m eternally grateful.

“If it wasn’t for Care Matters, we wouldn’t have a life. We’d lose an income, and I’d lose my identity because going to work is part of who I am. It would come between us, but I can go to work and have peace of mind, knowing Ken’s in safe hands.

“Without that care package, I just don’t know what would happen. I’d feel like a carer all the time, instead of a wife. I’d be a prisoner in my own home, but having this support gives me some freedom – and that’s priceless.”

Ken touches the canvas to check the waves of the Mediterranean are dry. His latest painting is ready to hang on the bedroom wall – and Anne will be back tomorrow to help him start another.


CARE Matters is one of the businesses that forms part of the flourishing Newlands Group that has its headquarters on Darlington’s Morton Palms Business Park.

The group, founded by Darlington entrepreneur, Phil Crowther, has a growing portfolio in healthcare, recruitment, education, and commercial property.

Care Matters became part of the group in October 2013, having been born out of a growing demand via Tribe Recruitment to supply temporary staffing solutions for the elderly care sector.

On the back of a Government drive to keep people in their own homes for longer, Care Matters Home Care was formed, initially delivering home care services in North Yorkshire, and it has grown ever since.

Today, Care Matters has two offices – in Darlington and Stockton – plus an extra care scheme in Thornaby, and employs more than 200 people.

In June this year, it was announced that Care Matters had added around 70 staff to its workforce after doubling an existing partnership with Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council to provide domiciliary services.

Care Matters’ managing director, Lisa Spark, described it as “an exciting milestone for the business and a real vote of confidence by the council”.

The company also provides domiciliary care for Durham County Council and Darlington Borough Council, as well as home end-of-life care for the NHS, predominantly in Darlington but other areas too.

In addition, it provides round-the-clock complex care for people with life-changing conditions to allow them to live at home – such as the kind of support given to Ken Longstaff.

The company slogan is We care – you matter and Phil believes it is the quality of the team that makes the service unique.

“We want to care for people in the way we would want our own loved ones to be cared for,” he says. “We’ve focused on recruiting people who are truly passionate about care because trust is all-important, and we’re proud of our reputation as a company that is committed to quality.”

The recruitment of Michelle Broom as registered manager for Care Matters Darlington is a prime example. Michelle has more than 20 years’ experience in the care sector, and her first task was to oversee a Care Quality Commission inspection that resulted in the business being rated “good”.

Phil is also keen for the group’s businesses to be embedded in the local community, particularly grass roots sports, and Care Matters recently became a sponsor of Thornaby Netball Club, providing new kits and equipment.

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The good news is that the plan is to keep on growing the business, with new Care Matters offices opening in other areas.

“We’ve built up a lot of experience and knowledge in the sector, so the aim is to build on the success of our existing services and create more local jobs,” says Phil.