“Jenny and Mike have helped me learn so much. It’s a calm place and I just feel much calmer myself. I think I used to get frustrated. I don’t feel like that now. I can talk to Jenny any time. I didn’t even make my bed before. Now I do all kinds of things. The washing, the housework – we divide that among ourselves. Jenny’s helping me to think about budgeting for the future too. It’s all the things I need to know for a place of my own." Sophie is just one of the young people who've benefitted from being with a Shared Lives carer in Wales. Alex Fox, CEO Shared Lives Plus, blogs about the difference Shared Lives schemes make.
Sophie continues: “I’ve also realised some of my ambitions. I’ve been to college and got some qualifications and that helped me get work experience in a Cardiff children’s nursery. I loved working there. I travelled on the bus every day from Barry to Cardiff. I helped take care of the children, feed them, play with them. It was just fun. Now I’ve got my certificates for Maths and English and I’m planning to go back to college. I know my family were so proud when I got my certificates.”
Sophie’s Shared Lives story is of finding a solid base within a Shared Lives household and using that stability and security to go on adventures and build a busy life. It’s a story we’ve heard many times. Independence is a word used so much in social care, we sometimes don’t stop to think what it really means. When we picture independent living for someone with a learning disability, we are often picturing them living in their own flat, managing self-care, household tasks and finances. But when we picture ourselves living a good life, we won’t be thinking about our ability to wash, feed and clothe ourselves, or even perhaps our success at work and with money. We are more likely to think about the family and friends we have built our lives around. People we are dependent on in many ways, and whom we hope, feel they can depend on us. Not many of us dream of a life lived alone.
There are almost 1,000 people in Wales living in or regularly visiting Shared Lives carers. Those Shared Lives carers have a professional role: they are rigorously approved over a period of months and trained and paid as part of a regulated care service. But they choose who to work with, because they invite those individuals into their homes and family life. The individual chooses too. Once the local Shared Lives organisation has found a good match, the arrangement is not just about the practicalities of ‘independent’ living, it’s equally about the relationships which go into ‘inter-dependent’ living.
“My life’s busy. I’m off to see the band Steps with my Mum in a few days. I’ve got a good relationship with my brother and my Nan. I see Dad regularly and I’ve got my friends. Jenny says when I first came I was always rushing to do everything at once. Now this is just home and I’m getting on with it. And, when I need her, Jenny’s there”.
Sophie’s sense of calm, and her new confidence as she achieves so many milestones, is rooted in her relationships. Shared Lives is growing in Wales, but there is still so far to go. We believe that everyone should have the option to find a place they feel they belong, and the sense of calm which starts with truly feeling like you belong.
Alex Fox OBE is the Chief Executive of Shared Lives Plus, the UK membership body for everyone working in Shared Lives and Homeshare. He is the author of A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum, from Policy Press