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Guest blog: Regional approach to Shared Lives felt like ‘natural progression’

In the first of a series of guest blogs Alison McDowell, Vice chair for the ADASS Northeast region, and Director of Adult Social Care and Integrated Services for Newcastle City Council, talks about how her vision for a regional approach to Shared Lives came about.

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I was at a conference in 2015 when I had my first Shared Lives ‘lightbulb’ moment. I heard a talk from James, who was living with his Shared Lives carer Andy.

James’ story was inspirational. He had moved from long term residential care into a family and community of his own choosing. It helped him become more independent, achieve his ambitions to work and to help others. It changed his life.

I had a second lightbulb moment when I realised the strength of Andy’s relationship with James, especially after James moved into his own flat for the first time. They still mirrored that family support for each other – James was independent, but he would go round for Sunday dinner, he was loved, he was supported. James knew he had a safety net that was as flexible and caring as any family that wasn’t institutional in any way.

I realised the potential for Shared Lives was huge and started to talk to other local authorities about how best to champion it through the North East ADASS network.

“Providers have also been supported to embrace growth and diversification.”

There are quite a few Shared Lives arrangements in the North East, more than 250 in fact. But they didn’t feel part of a family of services, even though we had had pockets of lovely stuff happening across the region. We also knew that the Shared Lives providers were really supportive of each other, so it felt like a natural progression to try and foster a regional approach.

One of the successes of the project so far, which is led by Shared Lives Plus and involves 12 local authorities, was establishing communities of practice, exploring ways we can scale up from a regional perspective so that everybody feels it is moving positively rather than competitively. Providers have also been supported to embrace growth and diversification through a sequence of workshops, using people with lived experience to inspire and encourage stakeholders to consider how they can expand their service.

We’ve also provided marketing insight, with a series of demographic reports showing a regional picture for what a typical Shared Lives carer might look like. This has helped to inform key messaging and marketing campaigns that are focused on a local or regional perspective, rather than a generic, national one.

Understanding and communicating the model has been a crucial learning point. We need to ensure that Shared Lives becomes something that social work teams automatically consider. But we also need to ensure there is capacity within local schemes to meet that need. We realised we can’t fix one without the other, so that mix of marketing and internal support sessions helped to address both sides of the equation.

“The legacy of this ground-breaking project will be the energy that we have built up around it.”

What I’m hoping what will come out of all this is genuine commitment and oxygen from local authorities to keep spreading the word about Shared Lives. That could be something as simple as keeping a steering group going, not because it’s being paid for as part of a project, but because we need a home for Shared Lives to be talked about.

We’ve already broken down loads of barriers, we’re getting commissioners participating in our monthly meetings and they’re positive and enthusiastic. The more practical support is also an obvious tangible benefit; it means people don’t have to start at the beginning all the time. But the legacy of this ground-breaking project will be the energy that we have built up around it.

Shared Lives still only accounts for less than 1% of all social care provision in the UK, but it has social value, is forward thinking, person-centred, co-produced and co-designed. And through our work, we have proved it is adaptable and scalable, which should be food for thought – and potentially more lightbulb moments – for commissioners up and down the country.

Consultancy support from Shared Lives Plus

Shared Lives Plus is working with ADASS in the North East to develop its regional approach to Shared Lives growth, in addition to ongoing projects with local authorities, health trusts and existing providers.

If you want to find out more about our consultancy offer and how we can help implement or diversify Shared Lives, as well highlighting incredible outcomes and welcome cost savings, do get in touch with our team.