Real Lives

The Business of Caring for Mrs O

Apparently you need three simple things to start a business: know your product better than anyone, know your customer, and have a burning desire to succeed.

So, you’ve met Joan Wilson, the founder of Mrs O’s Caring Hands Homecare, right? Well, Joan didn’t come up with that quote but she certainly could have as she embodies all three in spades…

From Northumberland, Joan started as a domestic after raising her family, before moving into the care side in 2002, realising very quickly that she had an innate love of looking after the elderly. She then became a Senior followed by an On-Call Manager and then Branch Manager.

And there the story might end were it not for a certain client called Mrs Eileen Oliver:

“I used to be a manager of a dom care agency when I met Mrs O. She lived in a rural place on her own with her two sons living down south and they would ring me to go up once a week to wash her hair because she had dementia and got used to the same person. She then declined and the company asked if I could go and do some hospital visits till the sons could get up there. I then helped them to get funding for her care so I worked a lot with the family. When she died there was a Celebration of Life and I was invited. And I said, if I can look after your mother like this…help people like this…I’m going to give it a go myself because it’s much needed out there.”

So, in 2016, Mrs O’s was born – no carers, just Joan, and from there it grew and grew. A successful Tier 2 Council contract has provided six areas in Northumberland and they’re now delivering 1400 hours per week with a staff of 40-50.

That’s quite a trajectory and not least when you factor in that Joan had a late baby at the age of 44 along the way!

And as many business owners will testify, the biggest challenge was money. Joan deliberately didn’t take out loans or apply for grants. So, when the first package came in she worked it herself so that she didn’t have to pay anyone and kept doing that until it got too much. When the money started coming in Joan didn’t want to create a pot, and then start taking on carers. She could have taken on loans but took the hard path which she doesn’t regret, looking back.

And the inevitable sacrifices?

“The company was my life! No social life, not a lot of time spent with my young daughter, no holidays etc. It was really, really hard for two years. I didn’t want to hire people till I had the finance behind me. That’s why I wanted the pot and worked myself to get it. I believe that going into business and getting loans means you’re doomed before you start. It was a big risk because but this was something I just had to try because if I didn’t I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

Many books have been written about the single vision and drive required to make a business succeed, so why is Joan Wilson driven in this way?

“I think because I have a passion and a lot of knowledge that I can help people with: I get great pleasure from helping people, especially the funding side because there aren’t enough people out there with the understanding of how it all works: people like Mrs O have worked all their lives to become old and have to pay for their care. Really? Why should they spend all their savings to be looked after?”

Despite the hard road of inevitable hair-pulling and tears, Joan is incredibly proud of what she has achieved, and her company has been in the Top 20 for the North East, a few years running now.

So, though it’s not easy, it’s as straightforward as the guy said, and as Joan Wilson demonstrates: product, customer, desire!

And all thanks to an elderly lady called Mrs O.

Debra Mehta

Edel Harris





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