The NHS is 75 years old, and Bellrock’s Ifor Sheldon has been there for well over half of that time. We caught up with him to hear more about the past, and future, of a great British institution.

On the 5th of July, the UK’s National Health Service celebrates its 75th birthday. Responsible for treating over one million people, every single day, the NHS is an immense source of national pride. It unites our nation and our people; 90% of us believe healthcare should be free of charge. Four in five name the NHS as the thing that makes them most proud to be British.

Bellrock shares this unshakeable conviction in the NHS as an institution. We’ve partnered with them for years, providing market-leading facilities management (FM) services to over 200 individual healthcare organisations.

This successful partnership endures for one reason: Bellrock and the NHS both respect the value of relationships and people. Both have built their success by developing teams of talented, dedicated colleagues.

Colleagues like Ifor Sheldon, Bellrock Contract Manager at West Berkshire Community Hospital. Ifor has been working in FM for the NHS for a whopping 48 of its 75 years and at the community hospital since it opened. Who better to sit down with and get a real sense of what’s changed over that impressive period of time.

How has the NHS changed over the decades?

“Back in the old days, your average nurse would think of FM people as just catering or cleaning assistants. Now, there’s a much better awareness of the value we add to their core role.
This is particularly true among the younger members of staff we see coming through. Senior nurses include us in their huddles every shift; our opinions get met with respect. They know how much extra they’d have to do if we weren’t here.”

Ifor SheldonContract Manager- Bellrock, West Berkshire Community Hospital

These strong bonds are reflected in the careers of both Bellrock and NHS staff. A number of the FM team have gone on into clinical roles over the years. Low overall staff turnover means there’s always a steady stream of talented candidates to keep the team at full strength.

“We’ve got a team of 45 people in all. The team handles everything from estate services to cleaning, catering, portering; people progress to wherever they do their best work. People start as cleaners then move on to help desk admins. We look for whoever’s getting compliments and think about how we can develop them.
So no, you don’t feel bad when those people go on to become nurses and the like. We’re seeing people we brought on board get the most from their careers. That’s how it should be.”

That positive attitude towards progressing valued colleagues is understandable when you remember the length and scope of Ifor’s career. This is actually his second time working in the Newbury area, his first was as a junior administrator back in the 80s. He knows what goes around comes around.

His career has covered Berkshire and Oxfordshire in depth, and he also served on Newbury Town Council for four years. Ifor, like many of the Bellrock staff in the NHS, work at the hospital that serves their family, and their own community. West Berkshire Community Hospital lives up to its name and is truly a community hospital. That depth of perspective helps him see both sides of discussions.

“You can’t take an adversarial approach in this job. You can’t be the one who’s saying ‘that’s not in our contract, we’re not doing it.’ When something needs fixing, you can’t say ‘ok we’ll come quote for it in a week.’ These are hospitals, things need to be done quickly.
It’s quite rare for Bellrock to do cleaning, for example. We do it because that’s what it takes to keep the relationship strong. And it’s recognised, it’s reflected in the nature of the relationship. The NHS aren’t wasting effort trying to pick fault with us. Mutual trust and respect.
Our approach pays off internally as well. We won Bellrock’s Team of the Year award when covid hit. Everyone was scared at that time; nobody knew how bad it was going to get. But the team, particularly the cleaning team, got the PPE on and did what they needed to do. It’s for the greater good.”

How are Bellrock supporting the NHS today?

Today, West Berkshire Community Hospital hosts two NHS trusts, providing healthcare services from physiotherapy and surgery to podiatry and radiology. It’s hard to picture how it would all look without the Bellrock partnership.

“We’re collaborating more or less at every level. The first ever NHS Tiny Forest was planted here, we did the groundwork and a little bit of maintenance for that. Then there’s the behind-the-scenes jobs, we pick up a lot of admins; maybe a couple dozen jobs in total.
We work in the spirit of the partnership as much as in the letter of the contract. Our people are part of it all. We contribute to the PLACE patient-led assessment every year. Our Chef Manager sits on Berkshire’s Catering Committee. Then we have young people who we’re matching with apprenticeships so they can find their own paths through FM.”

After 48 years, what does the NHS mean to Ifor? What would he say to someone considering a career here?

“It’s a service that has to continue, for the good of this country. And it’s a privilege to work within it. We have a staff member who’s flying home for an operation, to name one example. But she can’t go yet, she has to wait and save up enough for her treatment. Here, it’s free. Yes, there are political issues around waiting times, but it’s free.
“However, people choose to help, whether they take the NHS route or something like Bellrock, there are so many opportunities. You don’t need a university education; I didn’t have one when I started. On top of your salary, you get qualifications, training, guidance. It can take you places other jobs don’t.”

With colleagues like Ifor on board, we’re confident in our mission, and that of the NHS. Here’s to another 75 years of this unique institution. Long may it continue to unite us, at a time when we need each other more than ever.