Why Scarborough care sector entrepreneur Angela Fletcher is pinching herself at her success

Angela Fletcher is one of those forces of nature who are unknown outside their own sector, but who seem to shake the very earth within it.

Tuesday, 16th November 2021, 4:45 pm
Angela Fletcher, founder of Happy Futures in Scarborough.

A founder of three care businesses in Yorkshire – Happy Futures, Eden Place and Irene’s Housing – she employs over 100 staff, and specialises in providing care and support to people with complex needs.

She’s the recipient of multiple awards and was described by one client as “the most incredible woman I’ve ever known”.

That’s some accolade, and not one you might expect of someone who left home at 17 and was married with two children by the age of 20.

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“I’m shocked,” she told The Yorkshire Post. “In fact, when I take a breather and think back on what I’ve done over the years, it’s phenomenal. Happy Futures is rated ‘outstanding’ with the Care Quality Commission, we have got autism accreditation now, we are a specialist provider in North Yorkshire for providing support to people who other providers can’t support for one reason or another. It’s amazing really.”

All the more amazing given that Ms Fletcher didn’t start her care career in earnest until she was 30. Her husband, Bill, was in the RAF and they spent their early married life moving around Europe from posting to posting.

Eventually, they stopped moving and she seized her chance, graduating from Oxford Brookes University with a BA in Learning Disability Nursing.

“From the age of 11, I looked after my nan,” she says. “I used to bath her and stay over a lot, so I always knew I had a passion for care. Nowadays, I look after my mum, who’s got Alzheimer’s, and her husband, who has cancer. They’re both in their 80s.”

Last year, she decided she needed some help, so Bill gave up his job in the nuclear industry and now works as health and safety officer for her three companies. She’s also been joined by her son as chief information officer, and daughter as chief finance officer.

Happy Futures, which Ms Fletcher set up in 2010, provides support, including domiciliary care, for people in Scarborough with learning disabilities, mental health and complex care needs.

In 2016, she set up Eden Place, a care home in Ackworth, near Wakefield, for people with learning disabilities, mental health conditions, or sensory impairments who need nursing or personal care.

Then, last year, she founded Irene’s Housing – named after her mother – which provides adapted housing for people with complex needs placed by the council.

“When I was looking to work with a housing provider, they wanted me to work in partnership with them for 25 years. Well, I’m 53 now, so why would I want to sign up for 25 years? So in the end, I thought I’d just do it myself. Then, once I’d got going with one property, I thought, ‘This is working – I’ll get another one’. As one completed, we’d see another one, and it’s just been snowballing. We bought five last year and we’re just onto our sixth.”

The common thread linking all these three companies together – apart from Ms Fletcher herself – is the ethos they all share. They don’t follow a traditional business model, and are consciously not configured to maximise the bottom line.

“When I worked for corporate organisations, I felt that everything was about money; everything was about treating people like a commodity in a shop,” she says.

“People from a business background would come into the care sector and look at things from a purely financial point of view. But in the care sector you have to start your business off with the people, and work backwards. That’s what I do. All the time, I start off with the person.”

But while the clients – the people with disabilities who use the services Ms Fletcher’s businesses provide – are, as might be expected, very much central to the thinking behind operational decisions, they are not the only people she rates as priorities. Her staff are precious to her, and there is little she won’t do for them.

Some staff are paid by the hour through the NHS so she covers sickness and holidays out of her own pocket, and gives out bonuses twice a year. It’s not only a way of thanking them for their commitment, but also a canny way of ensuring her companies will be top of any job-seekers’ lists to apply to, which makes sense during the current care recruitment crisis.

“People in the sector are always saying they need more money, but when they get more money, does it go to the staff? Probably nine out of 10 times it doesn’t,” she says.

“If more money is given, I think providers should have to prove it is going to the staff, and not to the shareholders. So often, people want to get venture capital involved and make money for the shareholder, but no – what about the people? We’re actually here to care!”

In her first job after her nursing degree, she profoundly disagreed with the way things were run by her employer, an NHS Trust in the North West, and blew the whistle.

“I had to do it because it was the right thing, but it was hard work to take on a big NHS Trust when you’re a newly-qualified nurse. I felt like they made my life a bit hell, so I left. I didn’t have a job and my husband was like, ‘What are you doing? We’ve just bought a four-bedroom house!’.”

The experience left its mark on her and even now she is at pains to impress on her staff that they should not be afraid to speak up if they don’t agree with the way things are done.

She says: “I’m the funniest, best person you could have fun with – I mean, we’re called Happy Futures – but if something’s not right, I’m the first person to say so.”

This month, Happy Futures was nominated in 10 categories at the Great British Care Awards for Yorkshire and the Humber, and won four, including the Social Care Covid Hero Team award for Happy Futures and the big one – the award for Outstanding Contribution to Social Care – for Ms Fletcher. She’s now also looking to buy another property for Irene’s Housing, helping to transform more lives on the Yorkshire coast. She’s come a long way since Haslingden.

She says: “For someone who’d never run a business before and hadn’t really got a clue about what I was doing, to then have three companies that are doing well – and we’re providing amazing outcomes for people – I’m pinching myself every day. It feels unreal, like a dream.”

CURRICULUM VITAE

Angela Fletcher was born in Haslingden in Lancashire and grew up in Blackburn, attending Everton High School there.

She left home at 17, taking a job in a factory, and by the age of 20 was married with two children.

Her husband was in the Royal Air Force, and during his postings to Cyprus, Germany and the Netherlands, she worked in accounts and as a support worker or nursing auxiliary.

At the age of 30, she went to college part-time for two years, and then went to Oxford Brookes University, where she earned a BA Hons (2:1) in Learning Disability Nursing.

Following a successful string of managerial posts in Lancashire and Yorkshire, she launched Happy Futures in 2010, Eden Place in 2016 and Irene’s Housing in 2020.