On Friday, my colleagues and I were lucky enough to join the people involved in the Avalon Shared Lives scheme in Scarborough to launch our new Shared Lives holidays and breaks scheme.
Shared Lives has a very long history. You can trace it back to a little town called Geel in Belgium, where they have had a shrine to the patron saint of mental illness since the middle ages. So pilgrims with mental health problems came from all over 14th Century Europe. Instead of building a big asylum outside the town walls, they organised themselves into a boarding system in which people were included in the town, which still exists today.
So the idea of a Shared Lives approach to travellers is as old as this oldest of sectors. Over 6,000 people use Shared Lives for breaks and day support and there are specialist short breaks schemes like the one run by Leeds City Council. But, like other forms of social care, it has been almost impossible for people to take a Shared Lives short break outside of their own council area. This is partly because all social care services struggle to work across council boundaries and partly because of the practical challenges of adapting crucial Shared Lives processes like matching for compatibility at a distance. With a Department of Health grant, we were able to employ Karen Waldram (Karen@Sharedlivesplus.org.uk) who has worked with schemes and carers to develop a workable system for finding, setting up, supporting and monitoring short breaks anywhere in the country and ensuring that payments can be made. There is an online directory of participating Shared Lives short breaks providers waiting to be populated as local schemes sign up. You can see how it works (Scarborough’s Shared Lives service is already registered if you fancy a seaside break or a holiday near the North York moors) here.
Taking a safe, affordable holiday in a popular holiday destination is something most people take for granted. We may not be able to holiday in the Seychelles, but many of us can holiday in Scarborough. But for many disabled people, who need support whilst on holiday, the choices are limited, local, expensive and often have a distinctly institutional feel. So we’re very excited that people who need support will now be able to find a Shared Lives carer in a national park, a lively city, or a seaside town like Scarborough and take a break for less than the cost of a hotel. And experience suggests that many people who start off as carers and guests, will in time become lifelong friends.
We live in a world of cuts, where we are constantly being told what can’t be done any longer. Thanks to the creativity and passion of Shared Lives carers, the staff who support them and the people who use Shared Lives, we are in the business of telling people not what they can’t do, but what they can. There are areas of the country where we need new short breaks providers to help us to bring Shared Lives holidays to more people, either because there is no Shared Lives short breaks provider there already, or because the existing local provider is not able to adapt or grow to provide this new form of provision to people from out of area. So we are actively recruiting new short breaks providers who would like to take advantage of the well-developed policies, procedures and systems, as well as free national marketing through our online catalogue – get in touch with Karen if you are interested.