This is a guest blog from my colleague Tris Brown (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Members of Parliament are used to meeting important and impressive people, but Shared Lives people have a habit of impressing them more than most.
Jon Cruddas, the Labour MP for Dagenham credited as an architect of Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ vision, is no exception.
Last Friday, he visited Newham and as well as seeing a number of projects in the area, including a micro-enterprise initiative, he spent time with a group of Shared Lives carers and service users. Jon connected with the idea of family life being a route to inclusion immediately, likening it to his own upbringing with many siblings and other relatives.
One of the people present, living in Shared Lives, told a powerful story about how his “life was hell” before he moved into the house of his Shared Lives carer. After the turbulence of his previous family life, his Shared Lives arrangement has allowed him to find himself, growing and developing his own personality. Shared Lives carers present talked about how the people who live with them have been able to develop and learn new skills – often those we take for granted, like cooking – for the first time.
Like many people encountering Shared Lives for the first time, Jon Cruddas was at times visibly stunned by the powerful simplicity of what he was hearing. When you take a moment to consider the obviousness of using families to look after people in their own communities, and the potential that universally available resource has to change public services, it takes some digesting. “Amazing – they are the future,” he was heard to say afterwards.
The visit was part of a day exploring Newham’s ambitions to create ‘community resilience’, which is being led by Newham’s mayor who believes the council has a key role to play in boosting the borough’s ability to bring every citizen together to focus on improving their area. Newham intends this to be a transformation which doesn’t just motivate more people to volunteer, but to touch the lives of everyone living in the borough. Newham’s commitment to Shared Lives is a part of this, and its Shared Lives carers demonstrate what it’s possible to achieve.