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“In some ways the world hasn’t changed that much in the last 26 years”

Christine Lyons, lives in Ealing, London with her husband and has recently retired after 26 years of being a Shared Lives carer with Ealing Council.

Here, she looks back over the highlights.“In some ways the world hasn’t changed that much in the last 26 years. Back then, my husband and I were seeing a lot of people living on the streets, and coming up to Christmas, we really wanted to do something for other people. I am a qualified psychiatric nurse and so when I found out about the council’s new Shared Lives service being set up, we were interested. I became their first Shared Lives carer!

Christine Lyons (centre), lives in Ealing, London with Joe, her husband (right) and has recently retired after 26 years of being a Shared Lives carer with Shared Lives Ealing, managed by Catherine Kiraz (left), from the council.

Here, she looks back over the highlights.“In some ways the world hasn’t changed that much in the last 26 years. Back then, my husband and I were seeing a lot of people living on the streets, and coming up to Christmas, we really wanted to do something for other people. I am a qualified psychiatric nurse and so when I found out about the council’s new Shared Lives service being set up, we were interested. I became their first Shared Lives carer!

At first, I offered respite to young women with learning disabilities, who were moving out of the hostel near us. Helen was here for just a month, but loved it so much, she came back and stayed for 26 years.

To start with, people’s attitudes weren’t always welcoming, but as I introduced Helen and Lilly to our neighbours, they soon realised that there wasn’t anything to be scared of – on either side! They both became more confident and outgoing. Helen enjoyed gardening and went to the pub with her friends. When they first arrived, they didn’t care for their appearance, but with my support, they’d get new clothes and haircuts. It’s the simple things really. Lilly used to work at our local supermarket, but they’re not taking volunteers anymore, so I’ve set them up with roles at a local care home where they can help staff out with the older folk living there. Being out and about in the neighbourhood changed things for everyone. The local community really embraced us, and welcomed Helen and Lilly, just like they would anyone else.

The house feels empty now I’ve retired, but I know the two women who lived with us are happy and settled. It’s been great to help them move into their new home. They’ve been part of our family for so long, it’s quite a change for everyone.

They’ve experienced losses over the years, so I was really careful to explain when I wanted to retire. They called me their ‘old duck!’ – it’s been a lot of fun and we’ve had many wonderful experiences at home and abroad over the years. We used to go to Ireland a lot to where some of my family still live on a farm and it was a great freedom for us all – and we were known over there too, so it was like a home from home.

I’ve always been really clear that I’m their carer. In fact, they used to say to me, “you’re like a mum” but I’d always say, “well, I’m your carer” and encourage them to keep in contact with their birth families, which they did.

Catherine Kiraz, acting service manager, says, “We want to thank Christine and Joe for all their hard work and dedication over the years to the two women who lived with them. They thrived in Christine’s care and were well supported and cared for. Luckily, we still have Joe working with ESL as a day support carer so are glad he’s still involved! We wish Christine all the best for the future.”

Christine, continues, “I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking about becoming a Shared Lives carer, to talk to other Shared Lives carers so you go into it with your eyes open and with support around you. It is a commitment and it’s the consistency of Shared Lives which is what people need. If you can offer that, you’ll find the challenges are outweighed by the rewards of seeing the difference you make.”