Shared Lives Plus in Parliament and a “chance” encounter

Our first event in Parliament was organised by our communications colleagues Tim and Helen, with help from Lyn and the rest of the team. Tim (tim@sharedlivesplus.org.uk) has written this guest blog about the experience:

Straight after our first ever House of Commons reception one of our supportive MPs took Graham, Lorna, Clare, Joanne and Ayisha, the stars of the film we had just launched, for dinner in parliament.

Although we had fantastic support from frontbenchers across all major parties, notably our sponsor Shadow Care Minister Liz Kendall, Care Minister Norman Lamb, and guest speaker Nick Hurd MP, Shared Lives remains little known amongst MPs. This reception gave Shared Lives carers the opportunity to tell their representative directly about Shared Lives, and what it can, and is, doing for people who need support in their constituencies.

However for me the most interesting conversation with an MP happened not during the event itself but as we left the House of Commons dining area that evening.

On our way down the corridor, we bumped into a very well-known MP who Claire told us she had seen “on the telly”.

It would be unfair to name names without permission – but the figure in question was a household name, who commands respect across political boundaries for his work as a constituency MP over many decades. We took the opportunity to tell him about Shared Lives and that there was a Shared Lives scheme covering his constituency.

He wondered why there was a service like this in his area that he hadn’t heard of – genuinely surprised that he hadn’t come across something that sounded so positive, despite over 40 years as a local representative.

We said we’d send him some information, thanked him for listening, and went on our way.

As we walked out of parliament, I reflected on that briefest of conversations and what it meant.

Here we had someone who has been involved in supporting constituents with their needs and also making decisions about services in their community and the country for so many years – but they’d never heard of Shared Lives.

I’ve called it a chance encounter in the title of this blog; but on reflection chance isn’t the right way to describe it. This may have been unexpected – but it didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because 50 Shared Lives carers, people who use Shared Lives services, and their supporters travelled to parliament, to get our message across, to spend a few hours in the place where decisions about their lives are made, telling the people who make those decisions about what Shared Lives means to them.

On the evidence of this week, I’m confident that we’ll be back in parliament next year, and if the MP is also back next year, we’ll be sending him an invite to our 2nd parliamentary reception. We hope he can make it.

But even if he can’t attend, if we happen to meet him in the corridor again afterwards, he won’t say “I’ve never heard of Shared Lives”.

And that makes all the work we put into organising this event worth it.

Postscript:

As someone who has been fortunate enough to visit parliament on many occasions it might have been easy to forget how special the experience is for those who aren’t used to it.

One of the young women supported in Shared Lives asked the MP who was hosting us in the restaurant whether the Prime Minister had ever sat here to eat his dinner. That brought home to me what simply being there represented.

Some people see parliament and those who populate it as distant, or unrepresentative. For a few hours on Tuesday, a room in the Houses of Parliament didn’t look unrepresentative, it looked like the Shared Lives community. That’s something I’m really proud of.

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