The Shared Lives Ambassadors 1

Here is a guest blog from my colleague Lyn ( who has led the recruitment and training of our new Shared Lives Ambassadors:

Our work with the Shared Lives Ambassadors is well under way. We’ve had two days training together, Dipan and Paul have represented people who use Shared Lives at our Parliamentary reception and they, alongside Nick, Clare, Lisa, Michael and Phoebe are gearing up for our UK conference in November.

Pretty soon they will be writing blogs of their own about the work they are doing but while I can still get a word in I thought I’d tell you how we got to where we are.

As everyone involved in Shared Lives knows, Shared Lives is a partnership between Shared Lives carers, Shared Lives schemes and the people who live in Shared Lives and we are always banging on about the importance of this. Shared Lives Plus is a membership organisation with our members being Shared Lives carers, Shared Lives schemes and Homeshare programmes.

By listening to our members we get to know what is working and not working at a local level. We support them to talk to, support and learn from each other. They shape the direction of our work, to influence national and local decision makers and ultimately to develop a more personalised social care system.

Which is great but it is also ironic that the only people who aren’t currently members are the people we owe our existence to, the people who should be driving forward the shaping of the social care system, the people who use Shared Lives.

We wanted to do something about this. The why was pretty obvious. The what, the how and the when were slightly more problematic. We didn’t want to make assumptions about what sort of involvement people who live in Shared Lives wanted so we commissioned Your Voice Counts, a User Led Organisation, to find out:

  • How people want to be involved in the planning and running of their Shared Lives service
  • How people want to have their say about Shared Lives
  • What they would like to see written in important policies

Key things people asked for were a Newsletter, a service user charter, a more accessible conference and membership.

We felt it was really important to employ someone who uses Shared Lives to take this forward. We knew we wanted to pay a ‘proper’ rate for doing the work and most importantly we knew we wanted the Shared Lives Ambassador to have equal status within the Shared Lives Plus team so we began looking into how other organisations achieve this.

We were really impressed by the co-worker model organisations like CHANGE use. This involves a person with learning disabilities working with a non-disabled colleague. (A bit like a job share except both work at the same time)

The Ambassador role, like most roles in Shared Lives Plus, would be home-based and involve national travel. In order to give more people a chance to get involved we decided to use co-worker principles (in that Ambassadors would work alongside and have equal status to a Shared lives Plus staff member) and apply those principles to the recruitment of a team of sessional workers. We don’t know exactly how it’s going to work because it’s new and we are all learning as we go along. As Clare said “if you don’t try anything new, you just end up doing the same old boring things over again and you never learn anything”.

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