Emma and Tommy O’Connor receive MBE for 50 years of caring.
“It was a shock, you do what you do for the love of it. The Doctor’s at our local Silkworth health centre put us forward for the MBE. The Doctor’s held a big party for me and Tommy, it was a lovely surprise. All our family were there- and the children we had brought up over the years in fostering. We gave the Doctor’s a photograph of us with the queen, it’s up in the health centre, Tommy and I getting our MBE’s.”
Emma and Tommy O’Connor, from Silkworth in Sunderland, who have been married for 57 years have been recently honoured with a MBE for over 50 years of caring.
The couple who became Foster carers in 1968, eight years after getting married, were among the list of nominees being honoured by the Queen. Emma and Tommy have been honoured for over 50 years of care, as Foster Carers and their current role as Shared Lives carers.
Emma and Tommy have looked after two ladies from when they were three and five months old. They became Shared Lives carers so they could continue to support Silvia and Margret into adult life.
Emma said: “It was lovely, the queen presented it, and she spoke to me for ages, she was so down to earth. The Queen asked us how long you think you’ll be caring for? Tommy said how long is a piece of string? The Queen burst out laughing.”
Unfortunately, one of the ladies they supported passed away, Silvia died at 36, she had severe difficulties, Emma and Tommy had fostered her from three months old. They became Shared Lives carers when Shared Lives first started so they could keep Silvia in the family.
We wanted to know why Emma chose Shared Lives, she said: “Because I had the ladies that long, and they didn’t want to move on. They’re part of the family, you can’t tell them to move on, and you help them, that’s what you do. It is very difficult to get people with special needs placed, we knew them and we wanted them to be safe.”
After becoming Shared Lives carers to support Silvia into adulthood, Emma and Tommy naturally became Shared Lives carers for Margret.
Emma said: “Margret bakes, makes cup of teas, she loves water and bubbles so you have to watch her, but she has come on loads, we’re really proud of her. We treat them like our own, they are our own- and we really love them like our own. Margret is doing work experience at a garden centre at the moment, we take her. She left her IPad at the centre recently, Tommy offered to take her over the next day to get it. Margret ended up getting two buses by herself that day, there and back, I was over the moon and so proud- but I told her that Tommy would have taken her.”
We asked Emma and Tommy what is the secret to caring and supporting people for over 50 years, from childhood into their adult life.
Emma said: “It makes a big difference if you’re helping them all you can, and steering them in the right direction, we teach them as much as we can- and to be independent. You have to treat the people you support like your own, part of the family. I miss Silvia so much, the day centre she used to go to made us a lovely teddy bear and cushion from clothes she had left there before she passed away, and a polar neck she wore, it said ‘ A hug when you need it’, they thought the world of her.”
Shared Lives Plus would like to thank Emma and Tommy for sharing their story with us and congratulate them on their amazing recognition for their services to care for the last 50 years.