Donna Cowell

A Day In The Life Of Our Well-being And Hospitality Manager

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27th Mar BusinessWell-being

Donna Cowell – Well-being And Hospitality Manager

Since 2008 Adlington Retirement Living has launched 18 communities and in the past six years it has grown from 30 employees to a team of more than 250. As the business continues to grow, we want to make sure that all of our communities maintain the same high standards that we’re known for.

The Wellbeing and Hospitality Manager role was created to do just that. Part of the function of the role is to ensure that our homeowners have access to multiple events and activities on a weekly basis to support their emotional and physical wellbeing. Donna took up this position in January 2023.

What are the main responsibilities of your role?

Our homeowners have decades of experience and a depth and diversity of interests. We work hard to offer a wellbeing program that caters for that and to create an environment where bonds can form quickly and there is plenty to do.

Our duty managers at each community manage a programme of regular events and activities and I help to facilitate that. I put together annual calendars for them and suggest events to support their own ideas. We collate and share a central bank of ideas and contacts and recommend good speakers or bands.

As part of the communal facilities at each community, we have a hair salon, a therapy room and an activity room. We find qualified and experienced local therapists to come in and offer reflexology, aromatherapy, massage, podiatry, chiropody, manicures and pedicures. We usually set up taster days and then work with our homeowners to find out which treatments they would like to be offered on a regular basis.

We also work with local U3A groups to give talks and share details of the classes they offer. We’ve had Ukulele bands come in, we have French groups, we have chair-based exercise classes and Tai Chi. We have walking groups and, depending on the seasons, we have bowls or indoor bowls and croquet. Our homeowners play games too, such as bridge and chess, and we have craft groups, drama groups and gardening clubs.

Landscaped gardens

Really it depends on what the homeowners want. Sometimes we have certain duty managers or homeowners who have their own talents and are happy to share them.

At The Folds in Romiley, we had a team from the local brewery bring Shire horses to the car park and they gave a talk on local history. With anything like that we’ll carry out risk assessments to make sure it’s all safe.

When we open a new community, my role is to support the teams in setting everything up. I go in and work with our new colleagues to help with their initial training. I’m also available on the phone for our teams 24/7 if they ever want to ask anything.

Another part of my role is to work with all of our catering providers. We ask them to put a themed event on each month in the restaurant and then our teams will organise activities and classes and maybe movies around that theme, leading up to the event.

My background in catering lends itself to working closely with the operations directors to set the hospitality standards that we want. We have standardised table settings and high-quality menus across our restaurants. We now have a suite of menus for functions and afternoon teas. We want homeowners and their guests to have the same high quality Adlington Retirement Living experience in all of our communities.

When the marketing team run events, I work closely with them to plan everything in advance and then to make sure it’s all set up properly on the day. We always have fresh flowers, we always have the correct glasses, we make sure our teams have the correct uniforms. I go and make sure that’s all ready before anybody arrives.

Another part of my role is supporting our in-house team who plan and design our communities with things like signage. They might just ask my opinion on whether the signs are right and if they need any more to get the balance right between not having too much but making sure that people know where they’re going. We can help to feedback what works from a homeowner’s point of view.

There’s a lot of variety in my role, working with our different departments.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I really enjoy my direct interactions with our homeowners. We have several ‘knit and natter’ groups and they often link this to charity fundraising or donate their knitwear to good causes.

On a personal note, my granddaughter was born prematurely earlier this year. I was so impressed by the nurses and all the work that goes into looking after premature babies, so I asked our knit and natter groups if they’d like to knit anything to donate to the neonatal unit.

The response has been amazing. I went to Adlington House in Otley yesterday and two of our homeowners had left a message to say that they wanted to see me. They said: “we’ve knitted some hats and bonnets for you to take to the hospital.” I thought they meant a couple each but I’ve come away with two carrier bags and letters to take to the neonatal unit. I couldn’t tell you how many they’ve knitted.

That’s just such a lovely gesture, and it means something to them too. I’ll hand deliver them myself to the hospital and get some photos and a response to send back to our homeowners.

There are some really nice stories like that. I used to be the General Manager at The Woodlands in Heaton Mersey and they invited me to their Christmas production. They have a drama group and one of the homeowners had written a pantomime. They’d made all the costumes themselves and they performed it, and it was hilarious.

To see a community develop into something like that from when we initially set it up and to see how it’s blossomed in 12 months is lovely.

The Spindles in Menston, Yorkshire, has just introduced ‘the nightcap’, where they make hot chocolate in the evening. It’s a really good way to get to know the homeowners and that’s been phenomenally popular. Everybody comes down to it. We facilitate it but now the homeowners have taken it over themselves, which we encourage.

It’s a very versatile job, which I love, and I’m learning all the time with it.

How did you get into the role?

When I read the job description for this new role, I knew I had the relevant experience. Before I became the General Manager at The Woodlands, I’d worked as head of services for another retirement living company and I’d also been a head chef and a peripatetic catering coach.

Before that, I’d worked in four-star hotels and care homes. I’d also completed a housing qualification, and I enjoy floristry and crafts, plus I’ve always really enjoyed the social part of my role, so it just felt like the perfect fit.

What attracted you to this role?

I loved being the General Manager at The Woodlands. I loved setting it all up and I loved the team, so it was quite a hard decision to apply for another role.

I love working for Adlington and said from the beginning that I’d like to progress here. I see it being my company until I retire. I think the more you know the company and the more you grow with it, the more you enjoy your job.

The whole business has such a lovely feel to it. You can speak to anybody. It’s very much a people company. We are open and collaborative and we share ideas and opinions. Although it’s very professional it has a really nice feel about it. There’s warmth to the business, which is lovely.

I also knew that this was a new role, nobody had done it before and I could make it my own.

What are the most significant challenges in your field of work?

Prioritising can be challenging when you’ve got quite a few things on. Sometimes you need to be in two places at once and you don’t want to let anybody down, so you have to decide who to go to first. I do feel that getting around to all of our communities is really important.

Troubleshooting is another part of my role, so problem-solving is essential.

At the end of the day, it’s all about making sure our homeowners are happy. They’ve bought into a lifestyle and it’s important to provide what they want. Which changes over time and in different areas.

How do you overcome those challenges?

It’s just about good time management really.

To solve problems, I think it’s important to listen to people, to acknowledge their concerns, speak to them and let them know that you are doing some work on it. I try to have an open dialogue and then follow up on that with regular updates. It’s important to be honest and not to make promises you can’t keep.

We’re constantly learning and sharing our learnings with each other.

What gives you the most satisfaction from all of this?

Watching homeowners move in and the difference it makes to them. I still get to see that, which is lovely. To see that everything you put into place has continued and blossomed. It’s lovely to see the friendships that have developed and the social lives that people are enjoying. When you go to a community and you feel that hustle and bustle, you know that you’re doing something right. It warms your heart.

What’s the most important thing that you’ve learned in your career so far, and how have you made use of it?

To be organised, honest and transparent. To listen to people and learn from their experience, and to continue to be open to learning.

I think it’s also important to be true to yourself and be passionate about what you do.



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