Hello everyone, my name is Chris. And my name is Ali.
And Chris has lived for 3 years with myself, my husband and 2 mad dogs under the watchful eye of the very excellent Birmingham Shared Lives scheme.
So what can we tell you about ourselves? To be honest I read all these things from Shared Lives Plus – the magazines, press releases and all the inspirational stories about the amazing things that people in Shared Lives have achieved. And every time I think to myself “ well me and Chris haven’t done anything like that” and I feel like a bit of a fraud.
Which was completely fine. Until, in a recent moment of madness, we agreed to stand here in front of everyone today and tell you about all the amazing things that we have achieved…..!
So my first thought was “Oh well, not to worry we’ll just make something up”!
But then I started thinking “well what exactly have we been doing for the past 3 years?” And then I thought, “ I know, I’ll ask Chris….”
“Chris……what would you say are the 3 most amazing things about living here with us? Is it being part of the family, my unwavering support, and the sense of belonging to your local community??”
“No. It’s the free wi- fi. And it’s near the bus stop. And I don’t have to do any ironing.”
Oh! OK, well let’s try again: “Chris…..how would you describe me in 3 words? Warm, caring and compassionate??”
“No. Argumentative. Impatient. And always making me wash my hands……”
Right Chris, this is getting serious. We’ve got 90 seconds left and we’ve really got to come up with something to convince all these people to invest in Shared Lives.....
So……..supposing I gave you £50 in iTunes vouchers………!!! To come up with 3 really, really nice things about me and life in our Shared Lives home…..what would they be??
“Well. I’m independent, but not too independent.
I do more things and I’ve got more friends.
And you are kind and funny and you just let me be myself.”
And lo and behold, I think that might just be it……
Chris came to us after 19 years in a residential home and was, unsurprisingly, what I would describe as mildly institutionalised. It was an excellent home. But there were staff. And there were residents. And there were lots of boundaries, and when Chris wanted to go for a drink in the pub he had to complete a risk assessment. And when he first moved in we didn’t argue and we didn’t get annoyed – in Chris’ words “It was too calm”….and Chris usually just told me what he thought I wanted to hear.
Well I’m not staff. I’m not even sure I am particularly a carer – I’m just me. And Chris is not a resident or a client or a service user, he’s just Chris. And we live together and learn from each other and drive each other mad and maybe, just maybe - though we’d both be far too embarrassed to admit it- we even love each other a tiny little bit……
Chris has come off a lot of his medication. He enjoys college, volunteers in a local café, goes out and about with his friends and last year for his 40th birthday he took us all gambling and clubbing down Broad St – “ no risk assessment” – and I think it’s fair to say that by the end of the evening I was far more of a liability than him!
And I am learning all the time. In particular about how to tread that very fine line between ‘support’ and ‘control’ and how to just let Chris be himself.
So, while Shared Lives often changes people’s lives dramatically for the better, sometimes the changes are more subtle though no less valuable. Lots of things have changed since Chris moved in, we laugh a lot more and yes we argue too. But that is because Chris is more confident, more secure and more complete. And because, for all its flaws, our relationship is built on a solid foundation of equality and mutual respect such as exists in any other ordinary, happy family home.
My final question for Chris was: “Where would you like your life to be in 10 years’ time?”
So, looking at it that way, maybe we have – thanks to Shared Lives – actually achieved something a tiny little bit amazing after all…….thankyou.