My role within Community Catalysts enables me to spend time with Shared Lives Schemes, their carers and the people they support. It is such a joy to be able to stand alongside people who are involved in such a person centred, community based service.
I was recently told about a young woman called Annette with a learning disability and sensory loss who had been referred to Shared Lives and tentatively matched with a carer called Sue. Annette faced anxiety about moving home, combined with the challenge of a relationship breakdown and following an initial visit to Sue’s home she had left feeling that this was not the right place for her. Annette was concerned that as she was blind, the upstairs bedroom on offer might cause her difficulties in being able to move around the house independently and safely. She worried that Sue might not understand her support needs, her considerable anxieties and the choices she made. After discussing her concerns with the shared lives officer Annette agreed to visit Sue again, in order that she could share her concerns directly.
When she arrived at the house, and before they sat down to discuss concerns, Sue asked Annette to explore the changes that she had already made to her home. It turned out that following the first visit Sue had also been concerned that her house did not offer a suitable safe environment that would suit Annette. So acting on her disquiet Sue had spent time and energy turning her dining room into a perfect downstairs bedroom, right next to a bathroom and the kitchen. The fact that Sue had gone to so much time and trouble to make the environment right and then wanted to sit down to discuss how best she could support Annette in the ways that were right for her, is such a perfect example of what makes Shared Lives very different and very special.
A few months on and I find myself sitting in the lounge of this family home, talking to the Annette about her life. Constantly she used the words ‘safe’, ‘care’ and ‘home’ to describe her life now. She told me that she had never felt safe in the whole of her life and that now she felt that she belonged in this home, with this family and within the local community. Annette spoke about being a part of something, about feeling more confident, and being accepted for who she was. She really enjoys her new job – supporting the Shared Lives scheme with their training process for new Shared Lives carers and sharing her life experiences in order to support people’s learning and understanding. She was confident, enthusiastic and happy with a place and purpose in life.
Once again I am shown how valuable the Shared Lives model really is, enabling people to live their lives to the full, in a family setting within their local community. Offering individuals a unique and personal alternative to more traditional residential models of care or support. It’s inspiring!
Community Catalysts Director of Shared Lives
All names have been changed