Shared Lives Week 2: this time it’s personal

This week has been our second Shared Lives week. It’s a way for us to spread the word about Shared Lives and dozens of schemes this year have organised local events. At our UK conference this week, Shared Lives carers told us how frustrating it could be to be willing and able to share their family home, and yet to find that, in some cases, they waited years rather than months to be matched with someone who needed support, because front line social workers still don’t understand the model, or even know it exists.

We can’t afford to waste the talents and enthusiasm of people who have gone through the in-depth Shared Lives approval process and are willing to offer so much. It was humbling to talk to Shared Lives carers Stuart and Bobby from Brighton, both former nurses who decided to make the change to Shared Lives because they felt it was better to ‘offer a lot to a small group of people, rather than a tiny bit to lots of people’. They share their family life with people who other services have considered ‘challenging’ but who are living happily with them.

Graham and Lorna draw on their combined expertise of having been a hotelier and a care business manager to offer life-changing support to people who again have been labelled ‘challenging’. They explained how they start every day sitting down with the people they support to discuss the day before and plan the day ahead. They keep animals and grow produce, even supporting one of the people who lives with them to start up her own micro-business raising chickens. 

To spread the word about what its Shared Lives folk are achieving, the Shropshire Shared Lives scheme enlisted the local town crier. As you can see, we have some great pictures of people who use Shared Lives shouting out the message with him. (Frustratingly, the local press photographer was shropshire town criermore interested in the photos he took of a young woman who briefly joined in the town crying. My colleagues explained that, photogenic as she was, she had nothing to do with the Shared Lives story. But the paper still used a picture of her, thus excluding the people who use Shared Lives from their publication.)

Our conference this year was sold out, with around 150 people from across the UK (and one from Australia!) gathering to share their experiences, hatch new plans for working together, and to hear from sector leaders. The event was co-chaired by Haringey’s Shared Lives scheme Coordinator, Andy, who is also one of our trustees with Asif, who is supported by Shared Lives carers in Glasgow.

Asif, who is in his early twenties and originally from Pakistan, explained that English isn’t his first language and that this was his first time speaking to a large audience. That didn’t stop him from delivering a powerful speech entirely without notes. He told us how, being blind, he could be tempted to let his Shared Lives carers do everything for him, but “it’s my life not theirs, so I need to do things for myself. They are helping me build skills and confidence to live my life.” For Asif that means achieving at college (“My college had to learn how to work with their first blind student – we learnt together”) and at sport. He is a keen runner and competes with sighted people as a Judo green belt. His main message was, “never give up on your ambitions”.

Sandie Keene, President of the Directors’ association ADASS, outlined her vision for a social care system which invests in citizens, families and communities and which she is putting into practice in Leeds, not only through the city’s support to its two Shared Lives schemes, but also through its Neighbourhood Networks, which are user-led organisations working a very local level to bring together people entitled to care and others in the community, as well as local businesses, to create more inclusive communities. Sandie pledged her support for raising awareness of the value for money offered by Shared Lives, as did Liz Kendall MP, Shadow Care Minister, who said, “I think the work you do, and the values and principles you champion, must be at the heart of our care system in future. Your track record and experience have a huge amount to teach us as we grapple with the profound challenges created by our ageing population and the increasing number of people with disabilities.”

Liz set out a vision for a future where “people cannot be seen either as passive recipients of services, or as purely consumers. Instead, they must become genuine partners in co-designing and co-creating their care and support. For this to happen, neither the old state-driven nor predominantly market-based approaches to public service reform will work because both can end up dis-empowering people. Instead the new state will understand that people are genuine citizens with whom power and responsibility must be individually and collectively shared.” She outlined five lessons for transforming care which were featured in the Independent.

Finally, Norman Lamb MP, the Care Minister told a packed hall, “I’m a huge fan of Shared Lives.” The Minister compared his horror at the Winterbourne scandal where thousands of pounds a week of public money was spent on care which wasn’t just poor but criminal, and Shared Lives which offers a way for people to live ‘good lives’, even in a time of austerity. Our current system is “too paternalistic”, always thinking “we know best”, he argued, whereas what is needed is a partnership approach in which risks and responsibilities are shared. The Minister agreed with the idea that the moves to base social care on achieving well-being should be a vision for all public services, taking the principle of choice and control into sectors like health and mental health where they are currently weaker. His conclusion was, “I want to see Shared Lives as absolutely the norm.”

7 thoughts on “Shared Lives Week 2: this time it’s personal

  1. Lorraine October 27, 2013 / 10:33 am

    It’s hard to believe that Shared Lives , or Adult family placement as it was called has been running for 32 years and yet it is still not widely known about.

  2. Phil Mayne October 27, 2013 / 10:38 am

    Best of the year , defy anyone who reads it not have a lump in throat moment , excellent .
    Phil Mayne

  3. Kathleen Fawke October 28, 2013 / 1:45 am

    It is a pity Shared Lives Carers were on invited to the Conference. Their ticket was not free their transport or accommodation was not free . The respite for their service-users had to be found and paid for so considering we are fully paid up members of Shared Lives Plus it is a pity our voices are not heard . Nevertheless I am sure the paid workers informed the audience how the job is done !!!

    • alexfoxblog October 29, 2013 / 6:26 pm

      Hi Kath – just to say that we did invite Shared Lives carers to the conference and 25 attended this year. You are right that, whilst we did provide a cheaper, subsidised price for Shared Lives carers, we weren’t able to provide free accommodation and transport and I agree with you that finding breaks provision is a further barrier. We have been strongly encouraging local schemes to fund Shared Lives carers as well as scheme workers to attend conferences, particularly where schemes are able to afford to send more than one attendee. Bradford was one of several schemes for instance, who funded Shared Lives carers to attend – three in their case! We are also supporting the development of local Shared Lives carer groups, including through making small grants available to them which members can apply for.
      All the best,

      • Beverley December 5, 2013 / 7:26 pm


        I have been through a 13 month process to become a shared lives carer offering daycare and I have still not had any client referrals from social services!

        Is there a place I could privately advertise my services. I am based near Belper in Derbyshire

      • alexfoxblog December 12, 2013 / 4:00 pm

        Hi Beverley – sorry to hear about that. That sounds like an unusually long approval period. Although we encourage everyone to help raise awareness of Shared Lives in general, you can’t advertise yourself to provide Shared Lives independently of your scheme, as referrals have to be managed by the scheme. However, we would encourage you to talk to your scheme about the issue and we support local groups of Shared Lives carers who want to raise issues with scheme managers or local decision makers. Judith and Lyn will be happy to talk on and You can also encourage your scheme to sign up our national breaks and holidays scheme:

  4. Lorraine October 29, 2013 / 7:34 pm

    Hi , will there be grants available for members of the shared lives groups to attend.

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