2014: the year everyone hears about Shared Lives

Every Winter, the Shared Lives Plus staff team and our board of volunteer Trustees spend a day together in Birmingham to look at the work we and our members have done in the past year and to talk about what members have told us they would like us to do in the coming year.

I always enjoy our away days, not just because as a small team scattered across the UK, we don’t get to see as much of each other as we’d like. It’s also because we can plan together, with so many different points of view represented. In the team and board we have three active Shared Lives carers. We have staff and Trustees from each of the home nations, now with a new board member from Northern Ireland. Other Trustees run council-based or charity Shared Lives schemes. Our co-opted Trustees include our Equalities Champion, a Director of Adult Services and a former charity Chief Executive.

Last year, we all agreed on one thing: whilst we were getting the message out to more people, Shared Lives is still only a reaching a fraction of the people it needs to and only Shared Lives Plus and our members can change that. Too many people spend their days or their whole lives in services which cannot offer them a good life with friends, meaningful activities and a sense of belonging. So we set ourselves the goal over the next five years to see the number of people offered Shared Lives double and the range of those people become much more diverse, including more older people with dementia, more people with mental health problems and more young  people.

This year, despite it being a tougher and tougher climate for social care, we had plenty we could celebrate. The Big Lottery, Nesta and the Cabinet Office have agreed £1.9m of funding to help us to achieve that goal. We are starting to raise awareness and we hope demand, for Shared Lives, whilst helping schemes and Shared Lives carers to build capacity and learn how to support new groups.

Our goal feels daunting but achievable, with the New Year starting with contact from Birmingham for support with their ambition to triple Shared Lives in the city (see their film here) and news from Leicester, where local MP and Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall MP has successfully championed extending Shared Lives to older people for the first time. Liz says, “I’m absolutely delighted that Leicester Council is extending the city’s Shared Lives scheme to include people aged over 65. I’ve been urging the Council to take this step, because I’ve seen for myself the very real benefits of Shared Lives carers taking people into their homes and their lives. I’ll continue to do everything I can to back the work of Shared Lives Plus, both as a local MP and in my national role as Shadow Minister for Care and Older People”

Our plan to grow the sector includes attracting new kinds of investment (called ‘social finance’) to grow local schemes, via the Shared Lives Incubator which is starting to attract investors and interested local authorities wanting to grow their local scheme safely and sustainably.

In the meantime, please help us to raise awareness by sharing with us your stories of Shared Lives if you are directly involved or if not, retelling the stories you read here and elsewhere. They don’t have to be about anything unusual, just ‘ordinary’ stories of people finding through Shared Lives the support they need, new friends and a place they can call home. Our members are sending MPs and councillors New Year’s resolution postcards asking them to visit local Shared Lives carers and to be champions like Liz. Let’s make 2014 the year that everyone who needs care and support gets to find about Shared Lives.

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