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Reflection on 2021 from Jayne Wilson, Director of Development and Acting CEO

Our interim CEO, Jayne Wilson, who is our Director of Development, joined Shared Lives Plus as our Shared Lives expansion project manager. Here she reflects on her first year at Shared Lives Plus and what drew her to our members’ work.  

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“When I joined Shared Lives Plus in October 2020 to lead an emergency Covid project to work with Shared Lives schemes and recruit 200 new Shared Lives carers by March 2021, no-one told me how that role would change my own life for the future. It was an unforgettable experience to work with the six schemes who overcame the incredible pressures of the full UK lockdown and recruited four times as many carers as they usually would – in half the time! We learnt a huge amount that we want to share with other schemes next year. It’s been wonderful to hear some of the stories of new Shared Lives arrangements – Mollie and Mae’s story recently appeared in the social care White Paper.

If a year and a half ago someone would have said I would be acting up as interim CEO for Shared Lives Plus I wouldn’t have believed them – in some ways, it’s different to most of my other roles. Since I left university, I have been involved in community and youth work. I worked alongside people and groups to deliver change they wanted to see either as an individual or as a community. I also felt that the people who know best what needs to change and how to change things are the people with lived experience. But after a year seeing the work here I know I am in the right place, as that’s what the team do here too.

From my previous role as CEO of a charity supporting young adults with a learning disability, I knew just how special Shared Lives was. I saw many people, some from quite a challenging family environment, enter into a Shared Lives arrangement. The young people underwent a complete transformation as they were supported to live how they chose. So I thought I understood Shared Lives but it wasn’t until I visited a Shared Lives household and sat down for a cuppa with Sam, Adam, Pauline, Patrick and Natalie in Rochdale that I really got the impact it made. It was fab hearing about their wonderful lives and what is means to be a Shared Lives family.

I am not saying it is always easy to do; I know from caring for my parents that caring or supporting people, is at times incredibly hard and I know all our carers have had to work in such challenging situations over the past couple of years. Our team’s work with local authorities on pay, respite and re-opening day support will remain central to how we support Shared Lives carers and schemes next year.

Knowing how much my parents enjoyed living at home independently, I’m looking forward to the growth of Homeshare (where someone with a spare room, and looking for company, is matched with someone who wants affordable, sociable place to live) next year too so hundreds more older people can stay at home where they are comfortable and be better connected to their community, whatever the pandemic throws at us.

Working with our Ambassadors or hearing from any of our families or individuals in Shared Lives, Homeshare or our new Family by Family pilot is the highlight of my working week. I always smile because it doesn’t matter which of those services people are participating in, you can see that what is means to support people, to be part of something bigger and make connections. What is obvious that it isn’t just people being supported or our Homesharers or seeking families who benefit – those reaching out and willing to support someone else always talk about how they benefit and how much they love to being a part of what we do. You can catch a glimpse of members talking to delegates and the Minister of Care and Mental Health, Gillian Keegan MP, at our UK conference recently.

The more I work for Shared Lives Plus the more I realise that my personal and professional experiences have embedded in me the values around putting people first (personalisation), co-production and collaboration which feel so core to the work here. I think it’s why I feel so much part of the organisation and wider team after short time. And I know these values will continue to shape how I approach the interim role next year.

Next year, we’re continuing to put our values into practice, and I’m looking forward to the Your Voice forums, for all our members, starting in January 2022.  There’s more information in Sharing magazine and our regular newsletters.

I always have so much to learn – but I know that I have the support of a fantastic team and wider membership who are willing to help. I look forward to working with you – and hope to meet you soon.