Heather Barden, Chief Executive of Be Independent in York describes how telecare and the social enterprise model is the perfect match.

City of York Council has supported its residents with telecare, response and community equipment for many years, but since April 2014 the service has operated as a social enterprise. This means we are a business with a social purpose (to support people living independently in their own homes for as long as possible) and any profits that Be Independent generates are invested back into the organisation to continue developing services within the community.

Making the change has been an exciting but challenging time for the team. Whilst the Be Independent staff have many years collective experience in the telecare and equipment loan sector, becoming a social enterprise meant adopting a completely new structure. This included the creation of a Board, with a staff director who was elected by employees to ensure colleagues receive a voice at Board level. This has been a positive change, resulting in Be Independent’s 57 employees feeling more able to contribute to the decisions made within the business, and social enterprise status means any changes can be implemented very quickly.

Some of these changes have been lifesaving. Billy Partridge, one of our mobile responders, suggested that all responder vehicles should be equipped with automated defibrillators (AEDs). Responders have, on occasion, been required to carry out cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), and the Board agreed that AEDs would enhance the services we offer, providing further reassurance to clients and their families about the support Be Independent can provide, as well as giving peace of mind to responders.

Within weeks of the AEDs being supplied, Billy himself along with colleague Glenn Day used the device to save the life of a woman who had collapsed in the street in central York. Travelling back from a call to a client, the responders saw the 84-year-old was unconscious on the pavement being attended to by passers-by. She had gone into cardiac arrest and Billy and Glenn used the AED to shock her heart back into a regular beat and cared for her until paramedics arrived.

Another focus of Be Independent’s work has been supporting the national Dementia Friends campaign with staff attending awareness training to ensure they have the most up to date information and techniques for supporting people living with dementia. We also provide the Emergency Carers Card scheme, supporting cared for people in the event of their carer being unable to do so. In many cases, we’re not just supporting the client, but the people who care for them too; whether they live with the person they’re caring for or not, our solutions mean help is on hand in a crisis and support is available 24 hours a day

One example of this is where we fitted a bed occupancy sensor for an older couple where the lady has dementia and she had started to leave her bed at night and not return. On one occasion her husband found her hypothermic in the sitting room. He was terrified of this happening again, and so tried to stay awake all night. He was absolutely exhausted when he came to us for help. We fitted a bed sensor, and he can now get a good night’s sleep again knowing his under pillow vibrating alert will wake him if his wife doesn’t return to bed after visiting the bathroom during the night. This gentleman is still managing to successfully care for his wife at home, and sleeping soundly at night.

This is why we do what we do. There are thousands of people across the city who go to bed each night and wake up each morning knowing that Be Independent is there for them or the person they care for, day or night. Delivering the service using a non for profit social enterprise model makes it easier for me to sleep soundly at night too.