In January 2012, Somerset Care welcomed Chris Davis as their new Chairman. We caught up with Chris for his Big Interview.
You have a long and varied career in social care, can you describe your route to becoming our Chairman?
Having trained as a social worker in South Wales, I joined Somerset Social Services in 1971 and although most of my caseload was with young people I remember admitting three people to the old Calway House, two of whom has lived all their lives at Sandhill Park Hospital (both Ethels, I recall).
In 1989 I began 14 years as Director of Social services for Somerset. Leading a strong team with excellent relationships with elected Councillors, we were able to build services which were recognised as amongst the highest quality and most innovative in the country. We were the first to set up a joint health and social care trust (which continues as Somerset’s successful Partnership Trust), and the first to close all our Victorian hospitals for people with learning disabilities, building services in the community which transformed lives.
Of course, ours was also the first successful venture to set up a not-for-profit company, and transfer to it all our residential, day and domiciliary care for older people. Somerset Care was born! There is absolutely no doubt that it has been a huge success, partly because we got a few key things right in that first design, but more because people have worked tirelessly and with huge imagination to build it. That’s why it has been such a pleasure to get to know the company again, firstly as a Non-Executive Director, and now as Chair.
It was a huge wrench to leave Somerset County Council after 32 years, but I went to Cardiff, a great city in my homeland where Social Services were in severe crisis. Since returning from there five years ago I have done some consultancy work, led the establishment of the Social Services Improvement Agency, Cymru, and chaired the safeguarding board for children in the London Borough of Southwark.
You have been a Board Member for four years, what have been your key milestones during that time?
One of the great strengths of Somerset Care is that it is constantly adapting and improving whilst staying the same, through the strong values which we all share. We know that we have to succeed as a business if our vital services are to thrive into the future, but our ethos is public service, working closely with Councils and the NHS, and to help the people we support to achieve what they want for themselves.
The best thing about my job is getting about to meet people – our staff, who are so loyal, warm, skilled and lively; and our clients, who have such vast and varied experience and wisdom to share with us, and such a delight getting to know.
Recently it has been good to be part of building our new executive team, with Alyson’s excellent leadership. Change and continuity again! Special pleasures have been opening the wonderful new Croft House, the development of our PETALS dementia service, our impressive move into reablement through home care (focussing on the outcomes that people want to achieve in their lives), the hugely impressive new standards we have achieved in end-of-life care and the growing significance of our learning disabilities service.
About a year ago, we resolved to position Somerset Care as a dedicated provider of services for people with learning disabilities in the South West, adopting the ‘REALISE’ brand. That work continues apace, and brings me special satisfaction.
What new challenges and responsibilities do you face as Chairman and how do you expect Somerset Care to adapt to the future?
National Government must address the inadequacy and unfairness of funding for social care. The challenge for us is to be as efficient as we can possibly be, but also to help every individual to be as independent as they possibly can. That is good and fulfilling, but it is also vital because neither government nor each of us can afford to pay for any more help than we really do need. The other big issue (I’m only allowing myself two!) is our residential and nursing care buildings. Whilst some are flagships to be proud of, and many other can be maintained to provide excellent services for the future, others are no longer fit for purpose. How we manage an urgent replacement programme in the current economic climate is a huge challenge, but one we are determined to meet.
I have four grandchildren, two in the mountains of Northern Spain and two in Taunton. Katy and I try to see both families as much as possible. My lifelong passion has been singing, and I now run the excellent village choir in Halse. I’ve recently taken up the trombone again after 35 years, and I’m making progress! I play a bit of golf, and try to swim in the sea as much as I can, including an annual boxing day dip at Branscombe (wet-suits are not approved of). On the voluntary service side, I have chaired Taunton Music Trust (Orchestra West) for the last six years, I am a Trustee of the Somerset Community Foundation, and I was honoured to be appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of the County 18 months ago.