Our annual conference is an opportunity to catch up with over 200 people who live Shared Lives and Homeshare and this year our Chair Richard Jones and I spent an hour talking with members about what life as a Shared Lives carer or local worker was really like for them.

What came across very powerfully is how precious Shared Lives is to those who live it and how fragile it can feel in a time of swingeing (and not always thought-through) budget cuts. One member said, “some people just want to know how much it costs.” They have “unrealistic expectations and think our spare rooms are ‘vacancies’ – if it wasn’t for Shared Lives Plus, the model would be long gone”.

Shared Lives is precious because “it replicates what happens in a family. It’s about disabled and non-disabled people living together and people of all ages. I shared my house with an 18 year old and an 80 year old, but the 80 year old loved being with younger people, so it worked”. Another told me, “My home is there for the person who lives with me, for as long as he wants it to be home – forever if he wants!”

Keeping the model alive and thriving is a fine balance: there has to be process and paperwork in Shared Lives, but it’s “a balance between doing and recording”. Through investing three to six months in recruiting and preparing the right people for the role (rather than resources being tied up in coping with high levels of turnover and disciplinary issues, as happens in some services), and then matching people carefully, people are allowed to make more human decisions about supporting each other: “in the care home the older person who lived with me had to wait until 6pm for her painkillers no matter how bad her pain was. Fear of doing something wrong takes over common sense and it becomes about protecting the service or the staff not the person. In my house she could have it when she needed it – she never asked to take more than the right dose.”

Shared Lives is deeply personal, and as one Shared Lives carer put it, you feel “personally accountable”. That’s a responsibility that everyone I talk to in our sector takes incredibly seriously. One of our jobs at Shared Lives Plus is to help people take on that responsibility safely and sustainably, with all the back that they need if things get tough, so that Shared Lives and Homeshare are there for people to choose forever.

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