Meet The Team

Paul O'Rourke
Managing Director

Paul O'Rourke

Paul is the founder of the Next Stage Group which he started 15 years ago and now consists of four separate businesses.

The first is a specialist provider of care, support and accommodation for vulnerable adults, particularly those with severe and enduring mental health.  Following the success of this business Paul and his team have gone on to create a children’s home service for 8-17 years old; a support and accommodation service for young people 16-18 years old and more recently the inception of a fostering service.  Cumulatively the Next Stage Group now employs in excess of 200 people.

Prior to establishing the Next Stage Group, Paul gained a wealth of experience working for various Local Authorities in a number of different health and social care settings, as well as within the legal sector working with and for a number of prominent solicitors in the North West of England. 

Paul believes the quality of staff drives the quality of our services. Paul is proud to be a ‘Living Wage Employer’ who values staff and aims to be an employer of choice. Paul’s goal is that he wants the Next Stage Group to keep on being the best.

Jeremy Alston
Senior Service Manager

Jeremy Alston

Jeremy is a Social Worker registered with the Health & Care Professions Council and has been involved with the care industry for over 26 years working with children, young people and adults with complex and challenging behaviour.

His experiences have included being a director of a company that designed and built a school for young people and adults with varying complex needs. Jeremy has also previously held a number of Registered Manager and Responsible Individual posts.

Jeremey is currently the Nominated Individual with the Care Quality Commission for Next Stage A Way Forward and the Responsible Individual for Next Stage for Fostering with Ofsted. His role is overseeing and ensuring a high standard of service delivery and compliance within regulatory frameworks.

Jeremy has a vast amount of experience working within the independent sector and in positive partnership with Local Authorities, Ofsted and the Care Quality Commission.

Lynda Hardman
Registered Manager

Lynda Hardman

Lynda is a Social Worker registered with the Health & Care Professions Council and has over 30 years of experience working with children and families.

Lynda has worked within the Independent Fostering Sector for over 15 years and is responsible for ensuring the fostering service is operating within statutory requirements. Lynda is passionate about the importance of building the self-esteem and aspirations of ‘looked after’ children and young people. She firmly believes the key to this is ensuring children and young people live with well supported, caring, understanding, nurturing and resilient Foster Carers.

Outside of work Lynda is a mum to a teenage girl and enjoys keeping fit which includes running, cycling and playing rounders for a local ladies rounders team.

Paula Carroll
Business Operations Manager

Paula Grounds

Paula has worked in a diverse range of administration roles and has gained a vast amount of experience in identifying business needs and determining solutions to business problems. Paula has over ten years’ experience of working in Independent Fostering Agencies and excellent knowledge and awareness of Fostering Regulations and Legislation.

Paula’s role is to ensure a continuous, high quality service is delivered to staff, Foster Carers, Local Authorities, children and young people, whilst maintaining the smooth running of the business.

In her spare time Paula enjoys Geocaching which can be great exercise and takes her to places she never would of thought of as well as giving her a challenge!

Lisa Winstanley
Marketing & Communications Officer

Before embarking on a career in marketing Lisa previously was a helicopter pilot starting with British Airways, through to air ambulance in the States, living across several states during her stay.   Lisa keeps her licence current.

For the last 11 years Lisa has worked in marketing starting in retail, then moving on to public and private sector.  Lisa has a Postgraduate Diploma in Digital Marketing and is currently finishing her master’s degree in Digital Marketing.

In what little spare time there is she also enjoys machine motion embroidery and has been on several upholstery courses


Cara Mullaney
Operations Manager

Cara Mullaney

Cara has over 15 years experience as a social worker in local government, working across a number of different teams and specialisms. Cara has been in a management role in social care for over 11 years.

Cara is a practice educator and supports and assesses degree and masters social work students on placements. Cara is passionate about wellbeing and ensuring that the people she works with feel supported and listened to.

Sandra Aspinall
Family Support Worker

Sandra joined the Next Stage for Fostering team April 2016 as a Family Support Worker. Sandra's experience includes a parent to twin boys and following her career as a Foster Carer now has Special Guardianship for three siblings. Sandra offers support to our Foster Carers, their families and Children & Young People.

John Mason
Family Support Worker

After completing a 23 year career in the British Army as a Logistician Specialist, John has retrained as a Personal Trainer. Initially working in a nationally recognised Gym chain before becoming a self employed trainer working from home. With tours in in Falkland Islands, Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and numerous stints in Iraq, John has accrued a wealth of knowledge in personnel administration and welfare issues associated with the 80 strong personnel under his remit.

In his spare time, John enjoys mountain biking, road cycling, rock climbing, running and lately, he has discovered the new hobby of Magnet Fishing .

John is looking forward to working with our children and young people supporting them with their activities of interest.

Laura Bracegirdle
Family Support Worker

Prior to starting my career in the care sector I was a qualified beauty therapist for 3 years.


I am now part of the Next Stage Youth Development Team where my job involves supporting 16-18 year olds in a Semi-Independent Unit. This involves building supportive relationships with the young people to help them achieve their full potential. I advise and assist the young people with day to day life skills, which include cooking, budgeting, job finding, housing, etc, so they can become independent and able to successfully manage living on their own. I was proud to be awarded ‘Youth Staff Member of the year 2017’.


In June 2018, I became a Family Support Worker for Next Stage for Fostering, which I work around my Youth Support Worker shifts. This job role involves supporting foster carers, children and young people.