With all my anecdotes about Shared Lives seeming to involve farming and livestock, I thought it was high time I spent some time at an urban Shared Lives scheme. The team and Shared Lives carers of Haringey council Adult Placement gave me a very warm welcome. As usual, listening to Shared Lives carers talking about their lives reminded me of how easy my job is and what a privilege it is to be involved in Shared Lives.
If there is one thing that you hear time and time again from Shared Lives carers, it’s “s/he is just one of the family”. That was evident from Mrs H, who supported two men with learning disabilities for a weekend each month, for years. Now that one has moved back to Ireland, she still speaks to him on the phone every week and has been over to stay with the family. That link between families was evident from Mrs R, whose daughter was an approved support carer, and was back at home providing support in order that Mrs R could attend the meeting. In fact, whilst Mrs R has her work cut out supporting two women, one with some really challenging behaviour, it was clear that she was not completely alone in her role. A whole community of family members, neighbours and friends had got to know the women who live with her and offered support and friendship. This is a common feature of Shared Lives, whether it takes place in inner London or the Outer Hebrides. As one Shared Lives carer put it in a report: “The whole village is helping out, but in a natural way.”
The role of families in Shared Lives and its impact upon the families of carers is beautifully and movingly illustrated by this excerpt from a eulogy, also from Haringey written by the now grown-up daughter of a Shared Lives carer, about the man who came to live with her and her parents:
“When Michael took residence in our family home I was a young 14 year old. I wasn’t too sure what to expect of him but was told by my parents that he was a lovely guy.
They were right, all my thoughts were set aside, Michael was a fun loving individual and soon became part of the family and a lifelong friend.
There are many shared moments, birthdays, outings, holidays, parties where he never failed to take to the dancefloor. Michael made good use of what he had, never turning away, reminding us that life is for living and each moment is precious, so that we make good use of what we have and never forgetting to have fun along the way.”