Minister meets Shared Lives carers in Newham

Thanks to Anna (, our Director of Support and Development, for this guest blog about a visit  from Rob Wilson MP, Minister for Civil Society, who went to Newham Shared Lives scheme during Carers Week and met one of our youngest Shared Lives carers and the family she supports:

Newham Shared Lives scheme is one of 12 Shared Lives schemes in England involved in our carer project with a focus on supporting people who live with a family or unpaid carer to use Shared Lives for respite or short breaks.  The project is funded by the Cabinet Office.

Brenda is a young Shared Lives carer who currently supports two people living with her in a long term arrangement, and supports Rhianna for regular short breaks.  Rhianna is a young woman in her early twenties with a learning disability and visual impairment who lives at home with her Mum, Debbie.  Rhianna also has a younger sister who is nine and two older siblings.

During the visit Debbie described how Shared Lives has been a lifeline for her.  She has a really close relationship with Rhianna, and that’s visible for all to see, but has her own health issues and a younger daughter at home too.  Debbie told us how she’d always had trouble in the past with respite services, Rhianna hadn’t enjoyed going there and she’d had issues with trusting the staff.  She now says how she has absolute trust in Brenda and how much Rhianna looks forward to going to stay for the weekend.  These weekends give Debbie an opportunity to have a rest and spend some quality time with her younger daughter too.

Rhianna told us about all the good times she’s had since going to stay with Brenda, including the O2, bowling and getting out and about. Brenda said they always decide together at the start of Rhianna’s stay what she’d like to do.  When the Minister asked Rhianna what she’d like to do with Brenda this weekend she said to go to Southend for the day which Brenda thought was a great idea!

The Minister asked Brenda about why, as a young (twenty-something) person she’d decided to become a Shared Lives carer.  Brenda explained that a friend of hers was a Shared Lives carer and she’d seen the effect, and she wanted to do it too.  She explained that she gets as much out of the experience as she gives, and that instead of doing things by herself she gets to do them with the people she’s supporting, and that she’s seen much more of London since becoming a Shared Lives carer than she had before.  Brenda actually lives with her Mum and uses the spare rooms in their home for Shared Lives.

For a young woman like Rhianna, to be supported by a young Shared Lives carer like Brenda is an amazing opportunity.  She is supported by one of her peers and it’s more of a relationship with a friend than a traditional care provider.  I know Brenda does much to link people in to what’s going on in the local community and that Rhianna gets to do the things that all twenty-somethings want to do, the sky really is the limit.

It really was an inspiring visit and the Minister took time to talk to Brenda, Rhianna and Debbie about their experiences, before they all took selfies.  Shared Lives offers such a personalised experience designed around the individual and is all about the relationship.  Although they’d only known each other a few months, Brenda, Debbie and Rhianna were obviously really close and had shared so much.  It’s a big deal for any family carer to trust someone else to support their family member, but the relationships we see every day in Shared Lives make that so much more possible and allow that “good life” that we all want.

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