From England to Illawarra

A new partnership with a like-minded aged care provider from the UK covers staff retention and professional development at the same time.

Above: Ginny Larkin (image: IRT).

By Stephen Easton

The blossoming relationship between an Australian aged care provider and one from the UK has born fruit, in the form of a staff exchange program and the fresh perspectives it is expected to offer both organisations.

IRT entered into a formal partnership earlier this year with a large British aged care provider, ExtraCare Charitable Trust, and established a program to bring selected staff members from the UK for month-long study tours with IRT on the NSW South Coast, and vice-versa.

For the past three weeks IRT has hosted the first participant in the program, Ginny Larkin, who works for ExtraCare as a scheme manager.

Ms Larkin’s four-week visit is based at the organisation’s headquarters in Wollongong, and includes a busy schedule of site visits, training and meetings.

IRT chief executive, Nieves Murray, said the organisation would benefit from the fresh, creative thinking participants would bring back home with them.

“It’s an opportunity for our people to get a different perspective on seniors living in aged care, in a completely different context,” she explained.

“I think our creativity can be somewhat curtailed by the paradigm we work in – we often can’t see things outside of that. I know I’ve learnt the most when I’ve been outside that normal paradigm.”

“[…] This year we limited the pool to just our senior staff, because it’s the first year we’re doing it, and we’ve had five applicants to go over to the UK.

“Our intention is, if this continues to go well, that next year we’ll open it up to our care manager level and increase the level of interaction as the years progress.”

Next year, IRT’s area manager for the Eurobodalla region, Helen Spence, will travel to Birmingham, England to take part in a study tour with ExtraCare. Helen will be IRT’s first exchange program recipient.

Ms Murray said she had been in email contact with her counterpart at ExtraCare, Nick Abbey, for some time after being introduced by an Australian consultant who “felt he could see synergies” between the two organisations and their respective philosophies.

She suggested the idea of a staff exchange program during a visit to the UK provider last year, and the partnership was formalised through a memorandum of understanding not long after Mr Abbey visited IRT in March.

“We’re both non-denominational, we’re both charities and we’ve both been in the business of housing the elderly for a long time so we share a lot of similarities, both from a cultural as well as a functional perspective.

“Ginny has said it feels just like she’s at ExtraCare, but in a different hemisphere.”

At the same time, it is the differences between the two organisations that could really inform the way both pursue their similar missions in the future.

“To give an example, one of the things I found particularly interesting at ExtraCare was their community engagement model,” Ms Murray said. “In a sense, they build the community before the physical environment, by engaging with seniors in the area before they build the actual facility.”

Tags: irt, study-tour, uk,

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