Residents and staff at an Alnwick care home are celebrating after bouncing back to a good rating – thanks to the help of a very special retiree.

Abbeyfield House on the outskirts of the Northumberland market town was deemed as requiring improvement when it was inspected by the Care Quality Commission (CQC) two years ago.

But the 25-bed residence managed by Abbeyfield North Northumberland Extra Care Society has now been graded as good across all five areas scrutinised by the government watchdog – with the home’s newest four-legged occupant coming in for particular praise.

Canine companion Flash moved into Abbeyfield House, where the former racing greyhound who is now enjoying life in the slow lane, quickly won over the hearts of his fellow two-legged residents and staff. And the four-year-old rescue dog’s charm and comforting presence haven’t gone unnoticed in the CQC’s 14-page inspection report.

It says: “Staff recognised the importance that animals had on people’s wellbeing. The provider had adopted a rescue dog called Flash who had come to live at the home. The deputy manager told us of the positive effects that Flash had made on people. She said, ‘It’s enhanced their quality of life.’”

Adopting the retired racer and offering him a forever home was the brainchild of Abbeyfield House’s deputy manager Ewa Larmour, who wanted to create a pet-friendly space, bring residents together, give them a more positive outlook on life, and build a stronger community, having seen for herself the positive benefits pet therapy can have on dementia sufferers.

Flash has his own living area, joins in activities and is free to interact with residents and visitors, who have all fallen under his spell.

Siblings Maureen and Ian McLellan are two of Flash’s biggest fans. The pair had owned dogs all their lives until moving to Abbeyfield House. Ian, 92, says: “I’ve always liked having animals around and we always had dogs. Flash is a lovely, friendly animal. Just having him here is very calming. Mind, he likes the ladies!”

Maureen, 94, adds: “Flash is good company and he makes everyone feel happier. He’s my favourite wee doggie!”

Elizabeth Dickinson, 90, helps take Flash for a walk most days. “He’s a sweet dog. He will come and find you or you can go and sit with him. He is a real comfort,” she says.

Flash is just one of many positive improvements that have been made at Abbeyfield House since the CQC’s last inspection in 2017, to better meet the welfare needs of residents and ensure they are provided with a homely, companionable and safe environment.

Jim Thompson, chair of Abbeyfield North Northumberland Extra Care Society, says: “Staffing and recruitment issues have been successfully addressed, training improved, and care plans introduced showing residents’ personal histories and backgrounds, allowing us to deliver more person-centred care.

“All the food is cooked fresh daily and we now offer two meal choices which staff show to residents, helping them to both see and smell the food, which is a great help to those with dementia or who may be losing their sight.

“Pictorial menus are also available to help our residents visualise the planned meals, and we are using our own home grown herbs and as many local ingredients as possible to further enhance the taste and appearance of our food.

“And, of course, we have Flash. Everybody loves him, and he has made a real difference. He has helped turn our house into a home. He actively searches out the residents and befriends them. You will see him moving around the lounge and putting his head affectionately on people’s laps.

“He has really helped raise the mood, and I’m pleased the Care Quality Commission took the time to recognise him and the positive contribution he is making.

“I am extremely proud that we have got our good rating back. It is a testament to the hard work that has been done over the last two years, and I am extremely grateful to all the staff who have knuckled down and put the improvements in place.”

Ewa Larmour adds: “I feel very proud and motivated, and even in the year I have been here I have seen a huge and positive difference in both the staff and the residents. Everyone has come such a long way, and we have achieved a lot in what is a relatively short space of time.

“Flash has really made a difference. People who would sit in their rooms are now making an effort to come into the lounge and interact with Flash, which has increased contact between both them, fellow residents and our staff, helping them come out of their shell.”

Abbeyfield House is now aiming to achieve the CQC’s highest Outstanding rating, and has a raft of further improvements planned, including opening a coffee shop where families and residents can meet in privacy to talk and reminisce, and creating a sensory garden and summerhouse, with donations and sponsorship now being sought to raise the £15,000 needed.