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Elder Homes: David Messenger

The founder of fast-expanding care home operator, Elder Homes, tells us his start-up story

Farming was the first calling of David Messenger, founder of fast expanding care home operator, Elder Homes Group. Before going into the care industry, he was dedicated to working the family farm in Scotland. He also made a good living in property development on the side. Then, after a word of advice from his accountant, David's modest development business became a multi-million pound care home group,


“We did a development up in Scotland to do with the care industry: that was when the transition took place,” David explains. “It was a large house that needed a lot of work done. The care home idea was just what my accountant advised at the time.”


Once David established there was a need for a care service in the local area, he launched into setting up the business. He even managed to get bank funding for the venture. But it wasn't all plain sailing: “It was difficult, mostly because of my age,” he says. “I was quite young back in 1988. And we had some problems with the building initially: the builder went into receivership…”


As a result, the Elder Homes team had to organise the building works as well as the care home business and development. David says there were a lot of sleepless nights while they worked through it. But eighteen months later, after a complicated process including planning and contracts and registration, the development became an Elder Homes care facility.


David says getting the first care home up and operational, with all its 60 beds, feels like his greatest success. However, he admits it was difficult going into the sector without having a background in care. “It was a very steep learning curve,” he says. “I took courses and things. But when we employed a senior executive from the health authority to help us run the business, things were easier. They were able to assist with general hiring and day to day operations.”


The success of the first care home was swiftly followed by the establishment of others: over the past 12 years, David has purchased at least one care home per year. Developing the properties generally takes about 12-18 months. “The growth is funded through profits,” David explains. “It's organic growth on the property front. And then the profits from development go straight back into the business.”


Currently made up of 12 care homes, and with an annual turnover of £15m at last year's count, the expansion of the Elder Homes Group is showing no sign of slowing. Ultimately, David says the group is aiming for 1,000 beds altogether.


But while always on the lookout for business opportunities and for what is available for purchase and redevelopment, Elder Homes more than just profit and units to David. Running a care enterprise is not just about financial gain, he says.  “It is rewarding,” he insists. “I make sure to visit the care homes and speak to the residents. It's nice when they recognise you and they know who you are.


“It's a pleasure to see that you're actually giving them some quality of life.”


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