Barrister who found a new career in care

MD of Horizon Care Homes Laura Higginbottom at Wood Hill House in Grimesthorpe.  Picture by Dean Atkins
MD of Horizon Care Homes Laura Higginbottom at Wood Hill House in Grimesthorpe. Picture by Dean Atkins
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Barrister Laura Higginbottom left the life of a lawyer in London to become the boss of her family’s chain of care centres.

But at one point, she thought she was destined to become an engineer, like both of her grandfathers.

It was only when she got half way through her degree at Sheffield University that she realised she would be far better suited to a life in the law.

She switched courses, got her law degree and did her year-long vocational course at The Bar. But after becoming a barrister in London, she realised she was heading down the wrong road again. And that what she really wanted to do was pitch her talent and energy into her family’s construction business back in Sheffield.

She came back to her roots, joined father Peter and her younger brothers Thomas and Peter, whose company worked as a contractor on major builds for housing associations.

There she would happily have stayed had not life dealt the Higginbottoms the anguish of Alzheimers. Like so many families, they had to go through the distress of watching the condition devastate the life of a loved one - Laura’s grandmother Winifred - and come to terms with the fact that she needed to live out the last of her days in care.

“My gran had a very bad fall and had to go into hospital. She was there for eight months and we threw ourselves into finding the right place for her to live when she came out,” remembers Laura.

“It was such an ordeal. Watching her suffer felt like a physical pain for all of us, and we felt that guilt families are burdened by when they realise they have to find a care home for someone they love dearly. At the same time, we were deeply disappointed by the places we went to assess for her near their home in Scotland and here in Yorkshire.

“There were beautiful new buildings that just didn’t seem to be offering the level of care we wanted for her, and there were old, long-established care centres that did have the caring staff we were searching for, but the buildings were just not fit for purpose. They were old, tatty and often had that lingering care home smell.

“Our search felt so hopeless that dad said one day: “Right, we’ll build her a home.” It wasn’t meant seriously and we did eventually find her somewhere my grampa was happy with – but sadly gran died on the day she was due to move in.”

But the Higginbottoms never forgot how difficult their search had been - and realised there was an opportunity staring them in the face.

Today, at 32, the would-be engineer turned barrister now finds herself MD of three purpose-built multi million pound care centres with two more scheduled. Her legal training gave her the skills she needed to thoroughly research the industry and its regulations and the wide range of needs of people requiring residential care. The family business, Horizon Care, was formed and its first care facility, Wood Hill Grange on Grimesthorpe Road, Sheffield, opened in 2010 - the first new build unit in Sheffield in 15 years.

“I was absolutely terrified when we opened that we wouldn’t be able to find enough people wanting to move in. Plus we had no experience of the industry, other than knowing what we didn’t want for gran.

“But we needn’t have worried - people came. And I realised that having had no previous experience actually helped. We had no bias, no baggage. We went with our instinct. I believe that a care home is just a great big house with extra services and alarm bells. I wanted a place that I would be happy to have a member of my family in.”

That was put to the test at the second Horizon centre, Waterside Grange in Dinnington, which opened in 2012. Her grampa lived there for eight months until his death last May from oesophageal cancer.

“I didn’t even tell the staff he was my grandfather; I didn’t need to and I was so proud of the way they looked after him,” Laura says. “Though we learned a lot from having him there. We because much more aware of how the importance of knowing our residents’ habits, likes and dislikes. Little things, like having their socks in a certain drawer, or a door being left open, all make a person feel more at home.”

Through their experience of family tragedy, Laura has found her forte, her family their future.

Horizon Care, now has a third unit, Wood Hill House, again on Grimesthorpe Road, a purpose-built rehabilitation and convalescence home for individuals aged from 18.

Another centre is being built at Meadowhead and is due to open In December 2015 and some time in 2016 Green Acres Grange in Worksop will expand the Horizon Care portfolio.

“We pride ourselves on the fact that all of our properties are creatively designed by experts to give our clients varied environments and the support they need,” says Laura.

“Ten years ago I would never have predicted I would be running care homes. Not at all. Now I am so passionate about the industry. There is a growing demand. People are living longer and the stark fact is there are not enough quality centres and good operators to take care of them in the way they deserve,” she says. “But companies who want to create purpose-built homes are hampered by banks refusing to lend them the capital. It’s a time bomb waiting to explode.”