Energetic, quick, clever, practical and heart-warmingly human. This is Christina Handasyde Dick – two-times Olympian and founder of Guardian Angel Carers
“It’s great news,” she declares on her way to talk with Alex, Lou and Tim – members of the growing franchise family. She’s referring to the announcement that lockdown is to ease and that they can start to bring back some real-life social opportunities for her clients and team.
This last year she’s juggled online home-schooling, virtual-working, and remotely supported her mother as she battles neuropathy. She’s keen to get back to what she’s all about – being with people.
A caring young heart
Christina grew up on the South Coast within an enthusiastic sailing family. Boats and the coast were her playgrounds. It’s the place from where she took a journey to the Olympics – twice – and then came back to set up her successful and expanding national home care business.
It might seem unlikely that a competitive sailor took a route into home care, but its strong pull has been there since childhood. “My heart has always gone out to older people,” Christina says. As a child, she was often noticing: “I would be in town holding my mum’s hand and see an old lady on her own and wonder, ‘who’s going to hold her hand?’.”
Her parents’ divorce as a young teenager, although heart-breaking, saw her form close bonds with her two much-loved grannies. “I spent alternate months living with my dad and granny Bassadone, and then my mother and granny Gardiner, in her house by the sea,” she says.
She also signed up for voluntary service at school, and when asked to decide between cadets or care, the choice was easy. For two years, she visited a nearby nursing home to support an elderly lady called Doris: “I did some shopping, played scrabble, made cups of tea and stayed for chats.” And she loved it.
Sailing for success
Yet the call of the sea was strong. Alongside natural compassion, determination, focus, and grit are evident characteristics. It was these that she applied as a gifted sailing athlete. For several years she proved her sailing mettle, winning the 420 Ladies World Championships in 2000.
It was a course that led to her joining the British Olympic sailing squad. She felt “incredibly lucky” to be part of that because of the autonomy given to sailing athletes to decide their training, programme and partner. It meant she could innovate.
Christina explains: “I’m driven to find new, better ways – the same for care – we’ve created our own specialist systems and this year I’m working on tech enabling devices. There are always ways we can be and do things better.
“I used my student loan to fund a private coach for my sailing partner and me. I thought: ‘I can’t be better than the competition doing the same thing as them. We needed to think ‘outside the box’, so we hired Tom Saunt.”
It worked – despite being then underdogs they went on to qualify and compete in the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
It achieved a winning streak, sailing all around the world alongside Ben Ainslie and Shirley Robertson. The “soul-destroying” news of her dad’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis then came as a blow while at the Australian World Championships. Of course, she jumped on a flight back to support him.
Her family urged her to carry on. She remains amazed when she says: “Dad turned into a walking miracle! His medical treatment and strong resilience meant he lived for five more years, having had a diagnosis of five months!” – enough time for him to also see her compete in her second Olympic Games in 2008 in Beijing.
The winds of change
Representing your country twice is an outstanding achievement, by anyone’s standards. A medal, though, was not to be. Christina emphasises that win or lose recovery from the Olympics is not quick: “For all those years, I’d worked to achieve my goal, and put my self-worth on winning a medal. It was a massive comedown.”
The disappointment was part of a painful personal year – her father’s death, the breakdown of her relationship, and the parting-of-ways with her then sailing partner. Today, she knows the outcome led to betterment but she reflects that it was tough.
Working out what to do, she sought new adventures in New Zealand and London. Still, she felt the call of home. “I’d been talking to a friend who helped me to see that what I loved was helping people. I needed to find a way to do that and combine it with my love for organising and problem-solving,” says Christina.
She realised she could do that from home – near family – on the waterfront again.
So, she established Task Angels from her mum’s kitchen table, offering lifestyle home management services. It got busy quickly. Her entrepreneurial abilities grew the business into a team of three, she laughs: “Mum told me it was time to get an office.” She bought a humble houseboat on the nearby canal, which flourished into a “proper office” and a team of 25 within two years.
Finding her Guardian Angel Carer wings
She observed that the jobs were becoming less lifestyle and more assisted living – shopping, cooking, cleaning, companionship – for the large retirement market, who were also needing more personal care support. Not one to sit still, she approached a care agency about sub-contracting personal care. But, she knew she could do better.
In 2012, Guardian Angel Carers was formed to deliver its ‘by your side’ – innovating and compassionate care.
Mrs B was her first client. “She was a real character,” says Christina. “Signposted by social services to us because she’d been through so many care options in the area; we were her last hope.”
When the team visited her, with cats everywhere, they understood that the challenge was her condition and not her as a person. With empathy and thoughtful practicality, they turned things around so that Mrs B could live with dignity at home.
The little girl that had wondered who would hold the hand of that lone lady had reached out and made a difference. “It’s a privilege to do that and to see the tangible benefits home care brings. I feel constantly rewarded by that,” she says.
By your side – for a happy family
Christina hasn’t looked back. Her team today is 220-strong across the South Coast, with a fast-growing franchise family. “Our industry is crying out for compassionate care and purposeful people who can lead, inspire and make that happen,” she says.
The franchisees she’s talking with today range from nurses to former RAF pilots. Throughout, her dad’s voice still inspires: “He brought us up with the belief that if you’re going to ask someone to do something, you should be willing to roll up your sleeves and get stuck in too.”
Franchisees are part of my family. Christina and the head office team lead an innovating HQ branch as an examplar model for all franchises. They can trust that everything is tried and tested so that they can be the best home care provider, wherever they’re based.
“As any parent company should, we do what we say,” continues Christina. “It’s also why everyone does care training. There’s no them and us. Anyone at Guardian Angel Carers should be able and willing to provide the care.”
Care is unsociable – early or late – with notoriously high turnover. “How could we change that?” she stresses. Her solution: offer stability with contract shifts, flexible working and supportive colleague wellbeing and coaching. “I really care about caring for those who care,” she says. “We all need peace of mind, security and time to replenish.”
A family feel is what she wishes to achieve, and real recognition for the work they do. When COVID-19 started, she wrote to all the children of the carers to thank them for their parents time, and talk about the important role they were playing. She says: “With many people furloughed and enjoying greater family time, this was not the case for our team, still hard at work. It was important to say thank you, not just to our team, but their families too.”
In all this, Christina leads a busy family life. She met her husband, Andrew – a GP and sailor – 10 years ago when they competed healthily against each other. Today they live near the beach with their three young children Izzy (5), Jasmine (3) and Oscar (1). “Life is pretty hectic!” she laughs.
They share a sense of adventure – braving a long trip in New Zealand with young children and sailing together in the Solent. They’d love to see more of the world by boat. For now, though, she is happy pootling about on Chichester harbour, learning how to Wing Foil, and sea swimming – “I feel so good for it,” says Christina.