‘This is the way ahead for future care homes’ - Former staff return to new-look Alastrean House

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Alastrean House Care Home has recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, to provide luxury residential living with care and support. The home is situated in the beautiful and tranquil countryside of Tarland in Aberdeenshire.  A former retreat for Royal Air Force veterans, the historic mansion house is owned by The MacRobert Trust and operated by Balhousie Care Group.

The first residents have settled into their luxury accommodation this month, and have been welcomed into their new home by some familiar faces.

Billy Shields is one of several former staff members returning to work at Alastrean House. As maintenance technician, Billy is responsible for ensuring that everything keeps running smoothly. His cheerful, friendly manner and ‘whistle while you work’ attitude means he is a popular figure with staff and residents.

Billy has a history of working for the Alastrean Estate that goes back decades. He’s lived locally for 24 years since leaving the Army, and spent 18 of those working for the MacRobert Foundation and the RAF Benevolent Fund, so he knows every inch of the estate. What Billy can tell you about Alastrean House would fill a book - in fact, he has helped write two. He has seen many improvements made over the years, but none compare to the recent transformation of Alastrean House, following the devastating fire in January 2016.

Describing the night of the fire, Billy explains:

“When the alarm was raised, word quickly spread throughout the village and off-duty staff arrived with their families to help, everyone pulled together to get the residents to safety. We were lucky, really, that the design of the building meant we could safely move to another indoor area to keep everyone warm and dry.”

By the time the emergency services arrived, only four residents remained to be moved by ambulance staff. All 38 residents and seven staff members were evacuated swiftly without injury, as the fire spread internally through the flue to the roof space, causing damage to the walls and roof.

“I was very sad to see Alastrean House close, even though we knew it would be temporary. However, the damage was well beyond what I could fix up!” says Billy.

Now fully restored and redecorated, Balhousie Care Group has set the gold standard in accommodation and staff care for this flagship care home. Alastrean House has emerged like a phoenix from the ashes, looking more like a five-star hotel than a residential home.

Repairs to the structure of the historic property have been undertaken by The MacRobert Trust, with Balhousie Care Group’s architect and designer, Lesley Birrell, paying tribute to the heritage of both the family and the RAF in her transformation of the interior. The refurbished building initially includes 29 bedrooms, with a further 22 to open at a later stage.

Alastrean House holds a special place in the heart of the local community, and it was sorely missed while it was closed. Over 100 curious visitors from Tarland and the wider area attended the recent open day in November, where visitors could view the restoration.

Billy is delighted to be back working at his beloved Alastrean House. “I did retire, once, but I found I was fighting the three F’s - ‘fat, frumpy and fed-up’ – so I was back within a year!”

And what does he think of the changes?

“Something good has definitely come out of the bad. The home is wonderful, so light and bright. This is the way ahead for future care homes - to focus on hospitality with care. The designers have done a great job, and I’m glad to see that the history of the estate and the MacRobert family continues to be very much a part of Alastrean House.”

Billy joins a team of inspiring, caring and passionate people who support residents of Alastrean House to live their life their way. Led by manager Fiona Duncan, an intensive, month-long staff training programme has been delivered which covered care and support, dementia training, hospitality and customer service.

Fiona Duncan Alastrean House's new manager, said:

"I'm very excited and proud to be heading up such a caring, passionate team of people here at Alastrean House. They've worked hard in their month-long training programme and we're raring to go now to put it all into practice."

“We are like one big happy family here at Alastrean,” adds Billy. “The month of training was excellent, we’ve got a great team and it helped us all learn a bit about each other and our jobs, from KP to management.

It’s a real pleasure to come to work in such beautiful surroundings, and I think we all feel lucky. We’ve been settling back into our routines, helping prepare rooms and welcoming new residents. Staff are so impressed with the accommodation that they’ve been earmarking their own rooms for when they retire, but I’ve been told I’ll have to have mine near the lift - just in case it breaks down!”