On a balmy evening in March 2018, Keith was gazing over a stunning Sri Lankan landscape: the realisation of a life ambition. Keith was born there, descended from a long line of tea planters, but his family returned to the UK sixty years ago when he was just two. He always had a longing to retrace his roots, but as he got older and his life became more restricted, it looked increasingly unrealistic.
When Keith was just seventeen his younger brother Neil, aged fifteen, died from a severe brain injury having being knocked down by an intoxicated driver. The incident was devastating for the family, who struggled to cope. It was difficult for Keith to access the support he needed for his learning difficulties. When Keith was in his fifties his Father became seriously ill and was hospitalised. Soon after, his Mother had a bad fall and broke her femur which also resulted in a prolonged hospital stay.It was a very unsettling time for him as he was unable to manage living alone, but through an intervention by social services Keith entered into the Shared Lives matching process in 2004.
Elsewhere in West Sussex, Loraine Muir was ready for a change in life. Her long career in children’s services had started in 1969 and given her much satisfaction. But the times were changing as crippling financial cuts were ushered in. The strain of having to provide far more with far less began to take its toll on Loraine, who felt that she had done as much as she could in this particular area of social care.
She needed a new direction, but although she didn’t know where to find it s he was sure of one thing - she wasn’t ready to sit twiddling her thumbs just yet! Loraine had heard of Shared Lives from a colleague whilst she was still working in children’s services and thought it was a great approach to care, although at the time she didn’t think of it in relation to herself. It was a while later when she was considering what to do next that the idea kept tugging away at her brain. She had a lovely home to share, a wealth of experience that she didn’t want to waste - and a continued desire to make a difference.
It became clear that becoming a Shared Lives carer was the next chapter in her own story. After applying and completing the rigorous recruitment process, Loraine was matched with Keith, and today Loraine considers it the perfect match.
In the early days Keith came to Loraine for respite longbefore his parents were both hospitalised. He stayed full time with her when both parents were incapacitated and returned home for a few days a week when they had recuperated. Loraine began to develop an understanding of the family dynamic which had made it difficult for Keith to access the services he needed, and she began to advocate on his behalf. Keith is blind in one eye, and although he hasn’t been diagnosed Loraine feels that he demonstrates
traits of autism. He can become very agitated when a routine is broken, which can be exacerbated by his difficulties communicating.
When Keith’s father died nine years ago Loraine’s involvement increased as his elderly Mother was less able to cope. Sadly, she too passed away over two years ago, but by now Keith had been living with Loraine for long periods of time which helped him with her passing. Loraine ensured that Keith was very involved in the plans for his Mother’s funeral, something which she felt was important for him. He chose headstones for her, his Father and Brother and made many of the decisions about the proceedings, which helped him to come to terms with his loss.
It’s taken time, but as they’ve now known each other for fourteen years Loraine feels that she understands Keith’s needs.
"He’s very easy to be with, and I’m totally comfortable with us sharing our lives. I suppose I look upon him as a younger sibling, although I’m always mindful of professional boundaries too, when needs be.”
She said: “I feel that I know him well and if I explain plans far in advance, it reduces his stress.
Since living with Loraine Keith’s life has flourished, and he has been able to establish and develop his own identity. He had worked for a supermarket as a trolle
y assistant for many years when he first moved in with Loraine, but she felt that this was making him miserable, especially in the winter months. He has an unsteady gait due to extremely high arches and needs regular chiropody treatment. The job was manual and physically demanding as he was not confident enough to use the battery operated trolley assistance.
It was a job that his Mother had insisted he must do, and he felt powerless when it came to having a say about it. But when Loraine asked hi
m if he wanted to resign the position he was quick to say yes. Since then he has developed skills and knowledge in totally new areas: recycling wood, wood-working and gardening. This change of activity has had a liberating effect on Keith.
In the last few years he has become much more relaxed and sociable. He regularly golfs with two other Shared Lives carers, and Loraine struggles to keep up with his circle of friends at the pub in the village where he grew up, and where he continues to enjoy liquid refreshment every Sunday. Loraine has no doubt about the value of Shared Lives, although she feels that the benefits and rewards are not always immediately apparent. Through Keith her own Grandchildren are developing the awareness to speak up for the vulnerable, and an understanding that everyone – no matter their impairment - has potential.
Loraine said: “Shared Lives demonstrates an excellent model of care and they are a very committed group of people.
People with learning difficulties really don’t want to stand out as being different; they want to take part in society like the rest of us. That’s always the aim of Shared
Keith and Loraine demonstrate how both sides of a Shared Lives relationship benefit. Keith gets the support he needs to be the best he can be, and as Loraine says, she can carry on making a living while making a big difference to someone else’s life. Lives.”
Due to Keith’s Sri Lankan heritage, he didn’t have all the documentation for his first British passport and so organising the paperwork to enable the trip required a lot of leg work from Loraine and an introduction to genealogy. But it was worth it! To see the joy and happiness that being back in his country of birth brought him was very special. Loraine called it “a real privilege” to be able to enable and share that with him too, a memory that she will always cherish.
She added: “I am very lucky to have Keith in my life, but then as my Daughter said, Keith’s lucky to have you too Mum!”