We chose each other

This guest blog was kindly written by Jenny Smith for Shared Lives organisation, ategi. ategi runs schemes in Wales and Buckinghamshire. For films of ategi’s work, click here.

Angela is an ategi Shared Lives Carer. She and her partner Tina share their home with Debbie and Linda, two ladies with learning difficulties who, until they moved in with Angela two years ago lived almost all of their lives in care homes.

Although Angela’s background was in care work, she was working as a cleaner at Aylesbury’s Young Offender’s Institute when she saw the ‘ategi Shared Lives’ advert. She remembers that it said: ‘Can you give a loving, caring home to someone?’”

It seemed to make perfect sense. With Angela’s three children having left home, she and Tina were living in a four bedroom house. Angela wondered if this was perhaps an opportunity to go back to doing what she had always enjoyed most. Caring for people.

Encouraged by Tina, and by her friend Jen, Angela made contact with ategi. There were various important processes to go through before Angela could be accepted as a potential Shared Lives carer – to make sure that everybody’s wellbeing was taken into consideration and that their home was suitable.

Angela remembered a heartbreaking incident she witnessed in residential care, when two elderly ladies who were good friends were split up. One was sent to a different residential home and died only a few weeks later. Remembering this, Angela told Ategi that she would be happy to accept two people who might be unhappy to be separated.

Before coming to live with Angela and Tina, Linda and Debbie lived in residential care for almost all of their lives. Neither had ever completely settled anywhere. When they first came to live with Angela and Tina, they did not talk much, and often found it difficult to make eye contact.

Angela felt for Linda and Debbie, as she herself was painfully shy as a child.

“I understood how they were feeling. But they’ve changed so much since they came to live with us. They dress differently, they act differently, it’s a joy to see.”

Angela, Tina, Debbie and Linda now live together just like any other family. Cooking is a joint effort. They watch TV together in the evenings. They’ll have meals out and day trips. Debbie loves drama, she often sings and does very good impersonations. Linda enjoys arts and crafts.

Like any family, they have different timetables. Angela looks after her baby granddaughter Ellie on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Linda and Debbie go to day centres a couple of days a week and Tina works full time.

There are plenty of visitors, including Angela’s children and grandchildren. Angela’s daughter Becky brings Ellie to visit regularly, and Debbie and Linda love having a baby in the house. Relatives and friends often join them for Sunday tea or a Sunday roast. It’s a busy, happy household.

Angela and Tina make use of ‘respite care’ several times a year. While they have a break, Linda and Debbie will stay with a short-term ategi carer, who they know and trust.

Debbie and Linda’s lives have been transformed since they came to live with Angela and Tina.

“I am much happier living here,” Debbie says, “in the other homes I did not feel loved, and people were mean to me. Now I have a family who love me, and I love them.”

The household also share their home with two cats, Leo and Slinky. Leo came from a family around the corner, but he decided that he was happier with Angela, Tina, Linda and Debbie. It turned out that this suited everybody concerned, so he was allowed to stay.

“He chose us,” said Angela, smiling, “just like we chose each other.”

3 thoughts on “We chose each other

  1. Gill Phillips - Whose Shoes? April 12, 2013 / 11:08 am

    Heart-warming blog. Caring for people and making them happy in ‘normal’ family situations is so simple, and yet so very important. And, sadly, depressingly unusual.

  2. Kate Swaffer April 12, 2013 / 9:45 pm

    I love this blog too, and now that I’ve discovered Shared Lives Plus, have been promoting the idea in Australia. Of course, thanks Gill Phillips for leading me to it!

    • alexfoxblog April 26, 2013 / 9:18 am

      Hi Kate – that’s great to hear. We’re promoting the Australian idea of Local Area Coordination by the way! Lots of synergy.

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