Skills for Care

Interview: from occupational therapist to setting up my own care agency

23 Jul 2021

Skills for Care

  • Leadership

Derek Sleater has had a varied career in social care, starting out working in occupational therapy and working his way up the ladder in that area before deciding to step in a new direction and set up his own care agency which launched in May 2021.


He’s now the Co-founder and Registered Manager of Sunday Care Therapy.

We spoke to Derek as part of our #SupportingManagers spotlight about the challenges he’s faced setting up his own organisation, how he’s found the transition from occupational therapist to registered manager, and advice he’d give to others looking to set up their own care service or move in a different direction within the sector.

Hi Derek! Tell us a little bit more about you and your background in the sector.

During university I took a gap year and moved to London to support my sister who has multiple sclerosis and at the time was starting on a new medicine which needed to be injected. While I was in London I started working at a hospital as an occupational therapy assistant (OTA) doing neurological rehab. It was initially intended to be just for one year but I liked London and so I transferred my course to London and while I was still at university, I continued doing bank shifts at the hospital. I was then very lucky that the hospital offered me a sponsorship which allowed me to continue working there on a full-time salary and complete a university degree in occupational therapy, and I absolutely fell in love with it.

After qualifying I was very lucky in my career and within 10 years I managed to progress from OTA to occupational therapist (OT) to clinical lead and then to being a manager at a London borough managing four different services. I had loads of amazing experiences as an occupational therapist.

What prompted you to set up your own care organisation?

As I was progressing in my career and seeing more behind the scenes and working across different projects, I saw a lot of the challenges being faced across the care sector. At the same time my aunt who has Alzheimer’s had moved in with me so I could support her. While I was working, we had carers come to the house to support my aunt and again I saw the challenges which were being faced across the sector, this time from the side of someone needing support.

At this time, I made the difficult decision to step away from my career path and start my own care agency, and I took on the role of registered manager to be the lead.

What were the first steps you took in setting up your own agency?

I won’t lie, it was difficult getting started.

The first thing I did was devour the CQC website and all the information it provided for people setting up their own organisation.

Registering with CQC is a lengthy process and of course the pandemic was an additional unexpected challenge. The pandemic meant that we didn’t actually get registered with CQC until December 2020 (and the agency is awaiting its first CQC inspection), so most of 2020 was spent working on that process and getting all our policies and procedures written. We only fully launched the agency in May this year.

I knew that I had the relevant experience in OT to take on this challenge, but I didn’t have the business background to set up a whole business myself. However, I had a friend who was working in start-ups funded by venture capital and so I convinced her to join me as a co-founder in setting up the agency together.

I’ve also been doing as many training courses as I could, from safeguarding to CPR, to ensure I had all the relevant skills for setting up my own agency and being a registered manager.

What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far?

Getting the word out there about who we are is the biggest challenge. We’ve not yet become a council approved provider because the application process only happens once a year and we missed that, so we’ll be applying later this year. It’s difficult because nobody knows us yet, we’re not on the radar, so we’re spending all our time and energy on marketing and promotions.

We’ve managed to get eight kickstart roles on the team, two of which focus on marketing and PR to help get our name out there. To help us break into the market we’ve also pivoted what we provide and because of my background in OT we also offer private occupational therapy, and we also offer private training, and this is helping to sustain the organisation as we start out.

We’ve also been providing free webinar training sessions through Hackney Carers First for carers in the community.

Another challenge is having the direct responsibility for staff, as we want to ensure we’re providing them with a good livelihood and opportunities for career progression, which is a big responsibility.

What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to others looking to set up their own care agency?

The biggest thing I’d say is whatever your timeline is, whatever your expectations are, at least double it. Be prepared that the journey’s going to be very long, and your finances need to be robust.

What’s been your proudest moment so far?

We’ve been going out to support people who’ve been stuck in bed for months. We have one gentleman who’s been in bed for months, and through using our cross skills in occupational therapy and as a care agency we were able to help him get out of bed. The smile on his face and the emotion from his wife was a proud moment for me, that’s why we do this job.

Are there any similarities between being an OT and a registered manager?

The transferable skills from OT to registered manager are massive. If I didn’t have my OT experience, then to become a registered manager I’d need to do a level 5 qualification in health and social care but because of my experience a lot of what would be in that level 5 has been covered. I’ve been enjoying developing those transferable skills and also training others.

What are you enjoying most about your registered manager role?

As a registered manager you’re able to be a lot more pro-active and autonomous than you can be as an OT within a local government or NHS post, so I’m enjoying being able to be more pro-active and ensuring that we focus on the CQC key area of being well-led.

What advice would you give to people looking at a career as a registered manager – either moving from another role in the social care sector or starting afresh?

You need patience and an amazing ability to multi-task, as there are so many things that you’re responsible for and they’re all happening at the same time. Also, I would tell anyone starting as a registered manager to take a course on assertiveness. You need to be assertive, you need to know what to say and how to say it, and be very clear and concise in your communication.

One of the biggest things is definitely being empathetic and sympathetic towards both staff and the people you support.

What advice have you received from other registered managers to help you settle into the role?

In a discussion with another registered manager on LinkedIn he offered me these words of advice, “sometimes you need to break some eggs, to make an omelette”, meaning don’t be afraid to make changes for the better where needed.

What support networks have you utilised to adapt to your new role?

There’s a couple of Facebook groups that I’m on and they have been amazing. There’s the Skills for Care registered managers Facebook group and the CQC also have a registered managers group. I could not be more grateful for those, if you’ve got an issue type in a question and loads of people are happy to help. It’s also a massive database filled with policies and procedures which is invaluable.

Also, Skills for Care has a WhatsApp group which sends updates, and I’d also recommend joining the Skills for Care Registered Managers Network.

LinkedIn has also been very useful for virtual networking.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to change their career path?

Be brave. There’s a reason why you’re thinking of moving and you have to be brave and follow through with your convictions. Trust your intuition and take that first step.

Have a look at Skills for Care’s range of tools and resources to support registered managers, and our advice on opening a new care organisation.

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