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'Mum's work ethos from day one has been second to none and she also taught us that caring for people should come from the heart'

Ahead of Mothering Sunday, Gareth Macklin pays tribute to the woman who plays a crucial role in the family care home business, which has won a host of major awards. By Stephanie Bell

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Gareth Macklin and his mother Mary

Gareth Macklin and his mother Mary

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Gareth Macklin and his mother Mary at the Malone Lodge hotel on Belfast’s Eglantine Avenue

Gareth Macklin and his mother Mary at the Malone Lodge hotel on Belfast’s Eglantine Avenue

Kevin Scott / Belfast Telegraph

Gareth Macklin and his mother Mary

As we prepare to show our mums how much they mean to us tomorrow one local businessman says his mother has not only shaped his world, but that of many others.

Gareth Macklin and his mum Mary run one of the largest and most celebrated nursing care home groups in Northern Ireland.

Mary sits at the helm of a company she and husband Brian built from scratch back in the Eighties when care homes were new to Northern Ireland.

Not only was she a pioneer in the industry but last year she continued to pave the way with the launch of Northern Ireland's first "lifestyle" care home, Milesian Manor in Magherafelt.

Already award-winning, the home took three years of meticulous research by Mary and her team who wanted it to offer the very best lifestyle for its residents. It is the only care home with its own cinema, spa, pub and wellness garden.

Gareth, who is a director in the company, says the opening of Milesian Manor and the fact the company has picked up 42 awards in the last two years alone, including Care Home of the Year accolades, is down to the values that his mum instilled, not just in him but in every member of the 650-strong team who work for them.

"We're not just another care home, we're a family first and foremost and we treat everyone we come into contact with as one of our very own," he says.

"From staff to residents to relatives to suppliers to the postman - we're all one big community.

"My mother taught us family values and the importance of caring from an early age and we are proud to say that is the ethos of our company.

"We're natural carers. And that comes from within. We believe that caring is a calling in life - that there are people born to do it - and that's exactly the kind of people we have in our team."

Gareth (38), who is married to Rose (32) and has two children Patrick (3) and one-year-old Grace, grew up witnessing his mum's passion for the business.

The family home was in Randalstown and in the Eighties, before the first care home opened here, Mary, who was a home economics teacher, had the vision and passion to create a business that cared for people in their formative years.

Today the company runs six other care homes here as well as the Malone Lodge Hotel on Eglantine Avenue in Belfast.

From day one Mary placed an emphasis for their business on care and that value is still at the heart of the company and has not only been instilled in her children but in all of the workforce.

"There were no care homes in Northern Ireland and both mum and dad saw the opportunity to open one after they visited the South of Ireland where a couple of homes had been opened," he says.

"Dad was a builder and he would have set the buildings up and done all of the renovation work and then mum ran them. My aunt, who was a nurse, came on board in the early days, as did my uncle, who was a bookkeeper. The very first one we launched was Arlington, which had been a set of terraced houses on the Ormeau Road in Belfast.

"Mum's work ethos from day one has been second to none. She's always said that the care should come from your heart and recently we held training exercises with our staff and the single biggest thing that came out of those were those values about treating residents as if they were family.

"We are very fortunate to have the team we have and people are recruited into the company because they genuinely do care and are dedicated and that is down to mum.

"Park Manor Care Home in Dunmurry lifted the best care home award in 2016 and 2017 and Milesian Manor got it last year with Park Manor runner-up."

Growing up, Gareth says he and his sister Cara helped out in the family business as kids although there was never any expectation that they would follow their parents into the company unless they wanted.

Cara worked for the firm until recently when she set up her own company as a business coach. Gareth has worked his way up the ranks to become a director.

"I was extremely fortunate to have grown up in the family business," he says. "I remember mum and dad talking about work at home when I was very young. As children we would have been in the homes with them during school holidays and at weekends. I even remember some of the residents looking after me on occasions and I would sit and play in the gardens with them.

"We were always brought up with the opportunity of joining the business if we wished and if we didn't, mum and dad made it clear that was fine too. "

For Gareth it is a proud legacy and he has worked closely with his mum to come up with the new concept of a lifestyle home which they proudly opened last year.

The idea is that residents can continue to enjoy the best quality of life possible with their own entertainment facilities, such as a cinema and bar to socialise in. The gardens have been designed as a wellness space for people with dementia.

Gareth says: "Myself, mum and several members of staff spent three months researching what was on offer in England, Scotland and Wales and down South. We wanted to take the best bits of what they were offering and combine them with our own ideas to create something new.

"Mum is continuously innovating and looking for better ways to do things. When we opened Park Manor eight years ago it was in a league of its own too, with all bedrooms en suite and plasma TVs and the menus were designed by the chefs from the Malone Lodge Hotel.

"Milesian Manor is something completely different and very high level. The first phase filled up very quickly and we currently have a long waiting list for the second phase which is scheduled to open in a few months time." With its constant drive to improve standards the company has also arranged for celebrity chef Jenny Bristow to come in and collaborate on new menus for the nursing home.

A quick browse of the Macklin Care Homes website reinforces what Gareth says with a vibrant news section capturing many special events at the homes.

The group is also set to establish another of its new lifestyle care homes in the new £100m healthcare facility announced for the King's Hall.

It's good news in the industry at a time when it has been hit with a series of scandals in Northern Ireland.

Building her business on a foundation of care, Gareth's mum has led the way in standards.

Gareth adds: "I think any negative stories in the industry are very unfortunate and they make people forget the amazing work that is being done.

"Our residents are family and are well cared for and appreciated and anyone meeting my mum couldn't fail to see just how caring she is.

"She is a natural fit for this industry. Every week she visits every single home and will have first-name conversations with all the residents.

"Her belief in the importance of family values has been the foundation of our family business.

"She is also a great hands-on granny and she really has struck that balance between being a mum and granny and managing director of the business.

"My children are still very young but for me it is great that they have such a strong female role model."

Gareth will be spoiling his mum tomorrow with gifts and a family dinner which he will cook himself.

Belfast Telegraph