EOA Member Middleton Hall Retirement Village set to transition to employee ownership

Middleton Hall Retirement Village, one of the UK’s leading retirement villages, is set to join the likes of John Lewis and Waitrose by becoming employee-owned.

The move is aimed at safeguarding the long-term future and high quality facilities at the multi award-winning retirement village in Middleton St George outside Darlington, and will make it one of only 300 UK employee-owned companies and the first staff-owned retirement village or residential care facility in the UK.

Middleton Hall’s 190 staff learned of the proposal at a recent briefing session where the company’s main shareholder, Managing Director, Jeremy Walford, outlined the plan to become an Employee Ownership Trust. He explained the aim was to preserve the ethos and values of the business he has spent the past twenty years cultivating and ensure that Middleton Hall’s employees are truly respected as the company’s greatest asset and share fairly in its future success.

“I have worked hard to transform what was a struggling care home into one of the leading retirement villages in the UK and have taken considerable personal financial risk to turn it into a successful and profitable company that is financially stable.” Mr Walford added that as the owner of a mature, cash-generating company he was faced with the challenge of how to best maintain the long-term quality of the company after he had sold the company. “My motivation over the last 22 years has been driven by the desire to build a business that makes a difference to our customers and staff rather than purely for financial reward. I now feel a responsibility for ensuing Middleton Hall continues with the vision of being the best and maintains the values that make it the special place where our residents live and staff work for the long term.”

Middleton Hall Retirement Village is located within 45 acres of woodland and parkland and boasts extensive facilities, including a restaurant, pool, spa, gym and sports facilities, with the aim of providing a community where older people can live in a range of accommodation including retirement houses and apartments to suit their individual needs, with the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of village life. It has a rarely-awarded outstanding rating in all categories from the Care Quality Commission (CQC) and won the Skills for Care ‘Best Employer of the Year’ Accolade award in 2018 as well as achieving the prestigious Investors in People Platinum accreditation, an accolade only 0.5% of accredited businesses have achieved.

He continued: “I have received offers to sell the business but I am aware that in selling a company you never know who you are really selling to in the long term and I have seen good companies in our sector ending up barely a shadow of the business they historically had been when run by a caring owner, after being bought out.

“In a business world where capitalism and especially social care businesses often have a bad name, an Employee Ownership Trust offers a different model of how a truly caring company can operate, so my personal decision was easy.

“It should sustain Middleton Hall for the long term, ensure continued re-investment, high staff engagement and customer focus.  That is far more important to me than the personal wealth from selling the company to a third party.”

Employee Jan Hargrove, Middleton Hall Retirement Village’s Marketing Coordinator, said that the Employee Ownership proposal was great news, although she had not known what to make of the suggestion to sell the business to her and her colleagues when she first heard about it. “I learned of the plans earlier than my colleagues as I have been part of the project team preparing for the announcement and I had to go away and research what it actually would mean for us.  I found that the common thread running through other employee-owned businesses is that they are all values-driven, just like Middleton Hall Retirement Village, in spite of being in very different industries. “It is a very genuine process and gives employees a much bigger say in what happens to us which makes it a very exciting prospect.”

Deb Oxley, CEO of the Employee Ownership Association (EOA) which represents organisations which are employee owned or transitioning to employee ownership across the UK and which has been advising Middleton Hall Retirement Village, said: “We congratulate Middleton Hall Retirement Village on its transition to employee ownership and it’s great to see them working with our member Baxendale to achieve this.

“The move to employee ownership will secure the future of the business, its employees, its service to customers and contribution to the local economy, while retaining the values it holds dear, for many years to come.”

A separate briefing explaining the proposed move to employee ownership was also held for residents of Middleton Hall Retirement Village.

Jo and Dick Marlow, residents of the Waterside commented “It was very interesting to read the information on the future of Middleton Hall. We are very pleased with the plans for employee ownership and hope the staff are equally excited by the future you are proposing. “They are lucky to have such farsighted directors. We are also relieved to know that Middleton Hall will not become part of a national company and lose the personal touch that makes Middleton Hall the special place it is”.

A project team from Middleton Hall Retirement Village is now working through the process to transition ownership with an advisory company, Baxendale, specialists in the field of Employee Ownership.  The change in ownership is planned to take place at the end of March 2019.