Sharisse Richards, John Dempsey and Paul Hart share their lives together in their Birmingham home. Their shared life shows that families can come in all different shapes and sizes – and that the right mixture of personalities lead to rich and vibrant home. Sharisse, Shared Lives carer supported John, first, who had previously lived with, and depended on, his parents for all of his life:
“It’s every loving parent’s nightmare isn’t it? You have given your son your very best but, aware of your own advancing years, you’re now worrying about his future security. What would you do? That was the horrible position that John’s parents were in. They’d given him a wonderful, loving home for 59 years, but realistically they knew they needed to find another alternative for all of their sakes, but they didn’t know if it existed.
“John has non - verbal autism and requires fulltime support with his daily life. So, when they were introduced to the Birmingham Shared Lives scheme who matched John with me, I think it was a massive relief. For my part, I came into Shared Lives really wanting to do it well - becoming a Shared Lives carer has a special meaning for me. My own brother had needs which were just not properly understood, and he spent years in social care which I feel very much narrowed his choices. I wanted to do something which opened people’s horizons.
“It was interesting: as soon as John and I met I knew that we could make this work. We just clicked, straight away. We had a few meetings, and then he stayed for a couple of weekends, and we’ve lived together ever since.
“At first John’s parents struggled to get used to living apart from him after them sharing their lives for so long. But now they pop in for a cuppa and he spends some weekends with them too. I’m forever sending them photos of where we’ve been or what we’ve been doing with the day. It’s a lovely arrangement. In fact, on John’s mum’s birthday I cooked Sunday lunch and we all spent the day here together. We communicate regularly and I know that, they are very reassured that he is in a happy and safe home. John feels like a brother really.”
With John having become a settled part of Sharisse’s family life after several months, she began to support another person – with quite a different personality and situation:
“Paul moved in with us, on an emergency basis in March 2011. Paul was living in Aston, Birmingham in supported living accommodation. He’s held down a fulltime job at a Red Cross shop for years, which he loves, but he suffers with anxiety and mental health related problems.
“He was finding it increasingly difficult to cope at home, and his finances were getting into a mess which added to his anxiety. Supported living just wasn’t working out for him. When he first moved in with us, he did find it hard. It takes some people time to adjust, whereas others – like John – seem to settle quite quickly.
“But everyone’s an individual, and Paul is a different sort of character, so we gave him the time. He’s slowly opening up and we’re getting to know each other. He said recently that when he first came everything felt new and strange, but every day he seems a bit more settled. We all get on well.
“I think it’s about the right combination of characters, not so much having the same kind of characters, and that’s why the matching process is important. It’s finding the right chemistry.
“There are times when being a Shared Lives carer can be intense. It’s like anything, you have to learn and develop your experience but that only comes by actually doing it. For me, the only bit I find difficult is dealing with the benefit system and liaising with the government departments, to make sure that they each get their rights acknowledged. That can be frustrating.
“I appreciate the support of our local scheme and other Shared Lives carers, particularly Diane who is a good friend of mine and a very experienced Shared Lives carer. She supports Bradley who at 19 is a lot younger than Paul and John, but he comes to spend time with us and enjoys days out with the guys. It’s about personalities rather than ages I find. We have a nice social life that we all share, including other carers and their families. We make friends.
“The friendship with Diane has meant a lot. She understands it completely and in the early days, when I had the odd wobble, she encouraged me to believe in my own ability to do this well.
“I really think John and Paul would have had such a different life if Shared Lives had been available to them. That’s what Shared Lives does, it provides people with choices and a more fulfilled life.
“It’s a great thing to do and I love being able to give something back and feel as though I’m making a difference. It makes it worth it. Our house is a vibrant home. We get on each other’s nerves at times, just like any other family, and there are chores to be done and a routine to be followed, but we also have a lot of fun and laughter too.”