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Royal Star & Garter’s Director of Care on celebrating 20 years with the veterans’ charity

On 4 April 2021, Royal Star & Garter’s Director of Care, Pauline Shaw, will celebrate 20 years with the charity. In her blog, she looks back with pride on two decades with the charity, and the challenges facing the care home sector.

Pauline on assessment at Stoke Mandeville Hospital

Twenty years, who would’ve thought! I had no idea when I joined that I was about to embark on a fantastic two-decade journey with the charity. I had recently returned to England following 12 years living in New Zealand where I had my three children and built on my nursing experience in the UK with the NHS in primary and secondary care roles in Wellington.


I remember seeing the job in a local paper for part-time Practice Development Nurse. Royal Star & Garter inspired me. My grandfather and father were in the Services and I’ve always been very attracted to the commitment and sacrifice made by people who have served, somehow it’s always grabbed my imagination and held my respect. There was also a real interest in ‘what goes on in that building’ (the former Richmond Home) which I had passed many times when I was growing up.


I remember being shown around the building in those first few days and thinking I would never get the hang of the things, it was enormous! But I knew immediately that this was the place for me. It just seemed to click, everything seemed to fit. And within a year I went full-time and was promoted to Acting Head of Nursing.

Outside the Richmond Home with her daughter Alex, who is a nurse in the RAF

I have of course seen many developments over the 20 years, and believe we are now definitely more outwards-looking, seeking ways to network and collaborate with other similar organisations. Instead of trying to be a community on our own, we have recognised we need other people, other professionals and specialisms and in doing so we have moved forward by remaining relevant and a leader of quality care in the sector. For example, providing student nurses and nursing associates with learning placements in the Homes and participating in national and local research studies.


Developing a dementia care model of care has been a really significant change. It’s been a huge success story and probably one of the things I am proudest of being associated with. Since introducing the dementia care model, we’ve gone from strength to strength, welcomed people from around the world to see what quality care looks, feels and sounds like and won national awards. That’s been an incredible achievement for everyone. I have been involved with the design and interiors of the new builds, right down to the very smallest detail. I grew up with an understanding, and personal experience of my mother living with a disability and a wheelchair user. It gave me a really good insight into what we should be looking to achieve to provide homely, enabling environments, fit for purpose which also bring joy to the lives of the people living in them.


I’ve seen a real change in the profile of our residents over 20 years. At first the majority were male and this created a different culture in the Home. People move in to residential care much later now, so they tend to be more frail, and that has required us to provide a different type of care. As a result, the training we provide staff has changed, it’s a natural, organic transition from the kind of care we used to provide to the contemporary world. Seeing staff in action, the amazing skill they have, the way they speak with people, the care they deliver, gives me a huge sense of pride, knowing that in some small way I’ve contributed to that. It’s a wonderful feeling.


Getting to meet incredible residents has also provided many special occasions I will never forget. In my early days I talked to a WWI fighter pilot, I had a sense of pride in just being able to listen to his inspiring stories. Meeting residents and talking about their histories has always been an absolute privilege.


After running the London Marathon and raising money for Royal Star & Garter

I have also completed a number of fundraising challenges to raise money for our work, including the running the London Marathon, London 10km, Ypres Salient trek visiting WWI war graves and walking from London to Brighton non-stop over 26 hours and fainting three times on the way! Being awarded an OBE was a really proud moment for me and my family, especially as it was in recognition of services to veterans. I still have to pinch myself to have been recognised for my contribution. Nothing I’ve done has been achieved alone. Everything has involved being part of a team. It’s not a solo act, it’s a group effort working with the most amazing people.

Helping with the move from Richmond in 2013

Needless to say there’s been plenty of challenges.  The move from Richmond was a big project, and there was a lot of opposition to it. We knew it was the best thing for the residents, who by that time included my mum. Because my mother was a resident, I think I can relate to a lot of the families because I understand what it feels like when someone you love moves into a care home. I would never have done that if I hadn’t trusted the staff and felt confident, not just in the point-of-care delivery, but in the values of the organisation.


And then there’s Covid-19. We have to be reactive to what’s happening, but be proactive by staying one step ahead, basically ensuring the safety of everybody and taking every possible step to create that sense of normality. That will be an on-going team effort.


We also have to think as a care provider how we stay relevant, and continue to develop and enhance what we provide. The introduction of day care and other projects and participation in national research projects helps us to continually contribute, and develop, enhance our services.


I feel very blessed to have spent 20 years with Royal Star & Garter. What makes it special for me is being part of something I feel passionate about, working towards a common goal. There’s a similarity with the Services themselves, where people work collectively towards a common goal. The last 20 years have been the most memorable and significant years of my career and I continue to be extremely grateful for this opportunity.

In her office in the Richmond Home in 2006
On the site of the Solihull Home, before it opened in 2008
Pauline with her mother, who was a resident at the Richmond and Surbiton Homes
Proud Pauline with her children (l-r) Rowan, RAF Nurse Alex and Olivia after collecting her OBE in 2018