A property team have been hailed as coronavirus heroes for creating a safe haven for hospital patients.

The 14-strong team from the Caron Group, which has 14 care homes across South and Mid-Wales, have been thanked by the Queen’s representative, the Lord Lieutenant of Mid-Glamorgan, Peter Vaughan QPM CStJ, after they converted a former care home near  Bridgend into a recuperation unit for non-Covid patients in record time.

Abergarw Manor, in Brynmenyn, which had lain empty for six years, was originally bought by the Caron Group with the aim of transforming it into a state-of-the-art care facility.

Their plans ground to a halt when the lockdown came into force so, rather than let it remain empty, the Caron Group offered to hand over the premises free of charge to Bridgend County Borough Council for use as a convalescence hospital for patients .

They also volunteered their own in-house property team, who are experienced and highly skilled at converting premises in this way.

Led by the company’s very own “Captain Tom, site manager Tom Barnett and assisted by project coordinator Zain Asghar, they worked flat out and showed “heroic determination” to convert building into a workable, care standards compliant, 80-bed recuperation unit.

They made Caron Group proud, hugely impressed NHS and local authority staff. And now Tom and the tenacious team have also won the admiration of the Lord Lieutenant

He said: “I am contacting you as Queen’s representative for the County of Mid Glamorgan and want to thank you and the Caron Group for all you are doing at this exceptional time.

“What is clear from recent weeks is that the NHS are on the front line and their professionalism, commitment and caring are evident for everyone to see.

“It is also clear that we need to care for the NHS staff and their patients, and that you and the Caron Group have gone that extra mile to do so.

“Your very generous offering of Abergarw Manor as a temporary community set down facility is a remarkable example of such help.

“Your desire to make a difference and show that you care, I know has been greatly appreciated and had an enormously positive impact.”

It was a sentiment endorsed by Caron Group Managing Director Sanjiv Joshi, a leading member of Care Forum Wales, who said their selfless dedication was remarkable and called them ‘community champions’.

He said: “Tom captained our 14-strong team on the site and every one of them worked like trojans from dawn till dusk to get this unit open as quickly as humanly possible.

“We must also praise our amazing sub-contractors, brought in for specialist tasks, and the public-spirited suppliers who, despite lockdown closures, went above and beyond to ensure the team had the right materials for the job.”

“It was great to receive the Queen’s message to my team. We are also proud and pleased that in Wales every care worker is receiving £500 payment  as a respect of their contribution in this difficult time.”

There was also glowing praise from Mario Kreft MBE, the chair of Care Forum Wales.

He said: “The wonderful people working in social care sector are hugely dedicated and have big hearts so the fantastic efforts of the Caron Group’s property team, under the leadership of Captain Tom, deserve recognition and our thanks..

“Having said that, what they have achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of miraculous and I take my hat off to them all. They are real coronavirus heroes.”

The refurbished facility, which accepted its first patients just after Easter, has literally been a lifesaver for Cwm Tȃf Morgannwg University Health Board and Bridgend County Borough Council who are working to mitigate the ever-present danger of Coronavirus overwhelming hospitals and communities.

Tom who lives in Penclawdd, Swansea, with his hairdresser partner, Natalie and their four-year-old son, Harry, said everyone on the job realised how important it was to the community.

He said: “We all just knew that this had to be done with the utmost professionalism and with speed.

“Our minds were totally on the job. We didn’t let ourselves be distracted for a minute by the exceptional circumstances we faced.

“But looking back on it now I realise how testing a challenge it was for everyone concerned and what a brilliant job the lads did. They worked like troopers, uncomplaining and determined to achieve the goal. They were just fantastic.”

Several team members travelled 45 minutes daily from their homes in Swansea and Cardiff to work on site. Following the government’s social distancing guidelines and adhere to strict safety protocols on site.

Tom said: “One of the lads was always on the gate greeting and checking anyone who came to the site. We had to take people’s temperatures and make sure they had the correct protective clothing and equipment. We couldn’t let anything slide as it would put the whole team at risk.

“It was amazing when I think about it – not only did the lads get the job done in record time, but in the most difficult and unusual circumstances we have ever had to face.”

Normally a project of this nature, including health and safety compliant electrics, plumbing, plastering, interior construction and decorating, would take about a month, but the Caron Group crew completed the ground floor in just 11 days, and a week later the first floor was also ready to accept patients.

Caron Group Property Manager, Mitul Shah, said the team exemplified the community spirit which has been a linchpin of efforts to get through this heart-breaking crisis.

He said: “It is important to remember that Tom and many of the team have loved ones who they were going home to each night. They put the health and safety of themselves and their families at risk to achieve something for the common good and we will always remember their selflessness in doing that.

“The result of their work has been the creation of a first-class facility which has made recovering hospital patients more comfortable and secure.”

Patients are referred for ongoing recovery and recuperation at Abergarw Manor from Princess of Wales hospital and neighbouring hospitals run by Cwm Tȃf Morgannwg University Health Board.

Its availability means main hospital wards can be made free for emergency Coronavirus cases.

Cwm Tȃf Morgannwg University Health Board Consultant Nurse Lynne Garwood said without it hospitals would struggle desperately.

She said: “It has been a constant dilemma to find a way of freeing up beds for emergency Covid 19 patients while also maintaining a safe environment for non-Covid 19 patients who still need treatment and care.

“Having a separate recuperation unit at Abergarw Manor not only frees up hospital beds for the crisis situation, but it also helps lower anxiety levels among non-Covid 19 patients who are naturally aware of the difficulties going on all around them.

“At Abergarw the facilities are excellent. Patients recovering there have commented on how comfortable they are and how much more secure they feel in this safe haven environment.

“I and my colleagues visited the building before the conversion work was undertaken and we have been astonished at what an excellent job the building team have achieved given the extremely difficult circumstances and short timespan.

“The team were reassuring and positive throughout and maintained a good humour whenever we had any queries of them. They have been outstanding. We just cannot believe how much they have accomplished.

“For them it was not just about the building work itself but about the people and it was evident from the word go that they wanted to do all they possibly could do for the benefit of the patients. We simply cannot thank them enough.

“Looking to the future, this is exactly the sort of combined partnership project which communities should look to replicate in years ahead, working cohesively together not just in emergency circumstances but as a general norm.”

She added that the health board is also working closely with organisations including Age Connects and Mental Health Matters to further support patients using the facilities, particularly those with cognitive impairment and dementia.