This is a guest blog in which my colleague Hannah tells Ken’s story, from the Medway Shared Lives scheme in Kent:
“We’re not staff, we don’t clock off after 8 hours, there’s no handover at 10pm, no rigid routines, and we can make sure people have an ordinary day, week, month and year.”
Ken who uses Shared Lives services joined Shared Lives carer, Sarah King in an emergency, unplanned placement in 2011. Sarah soon discovered there was more to Ken than meets the eye.
Ken has a moderate learning disability and needs support for all daily activities. However, this does not stop Ken from being popular in the community, and communicating with a variety of people, despite having a limited vocabulary.
Within a few weeks of Ken living with Sarah, she learnt that he was an artist by a chance meeting with Ken’s former tutor, who ran an art project Ken was involved with, and also a pottery class he attended regularly.
When Ken transferred to Shared Lives he didn’t tell Sarah about his art work. The college he attended thought he may have passed away, due to his unexplained long-term absence, so the reunion was very emotional for both Ken and his tutor. Delighted to see Ken, the tutor said to Sarah, ‘You do know he’s an artist, don’t you?’
Shared Lives carer, Sarah King said: “We didn’t know… the only art material he brought with him was a child’s colouring book and some worn out felt tip pens. We set about trying to engage him in creative activities, at home and in the community. Several months later the care manager received an email about a new art project, which was to start the following week. Due to us being able to be flexible and responsive to needs and circumstances, I was able to make contact with the facilitators of the art project. We looked at the workspace- so he joined for 1 day a week the following week.”
The 3 month art project gave Ken some really valuable art experience – he was valued as an artist by professionals in his own right. The art project held an exhibition at the end and Ken sold some great pieces of work at the final exhibition.
Five years on from the project, Ken and Sarah have kept in touch with facilitators, they also secured an arts fund application for Ken and 8 other people to have some stand-alone art sessions.
Since the first art project, Ken’s confidence has gone from strength to strength.
Sarah said: “He’s always being invited to take part in mainstream community arts activities, in fact as a family, we all have.
One of the projects Ken took part in included 10 other artists who each had some sort of support need. They visited a crypt in Rochester Cathedral, before it closed for two years for refurbishment. The culmination of the twelve week art sessions produced the images that would be etched in the glass walls of a permanent exhibition space in the newly refurbished crypt.
Ken was the only participating artist to attend the grand opening… this event was important to Ken, and also important for our whole household as we were very proud of Ken and we were excited to see his work in such a special place. He was quite overwhelmed by the attention he received from dignitaries and guests attending the event.”
Since this event Ken has gone on to take part in the Medway Open Studio Arts Festival twice, in a room that was turned into a studio, especially for the event. He has also been offered space by two other artists in their studios- for him to take part this year.
Ken’s talent and love for art led him to having 6 friends attend his 70th birthday party- that were local professional artists, and one of his best friends- who is an arts facilitator and director of an arts resource in the shape of a bright red lightship.
Sarah: “Ken loves all modes of transport, so ‘the ship’ is one of his favourite subjects to draw or model. Ken was asked to represent the captain at an awards ceremony last year. The ship won the award and Ken punched the air as he walked up to the stage to collect the award.”
The captain has recently offered Ken the opportunity to have a solo exhibition on board the ship, free of charge, which usually costs hundreds of pounds.
Everyone involved in Shared Lives is very proud of Ken and we would like to wish him all the success he deserves with his work in the future.
We would also like to say a very big thank you to his Shared Lives carer, Sarah King. Sarah contacted us to share Ken’s story, as she is so proud of his achievements in the community, as a talented artist. Here is Ken meeting the Countess of Wessex at the launch of the Cathedral artwork.
To clarify, this is a Shared Lives Placement run by Medway Council and not Kent, which I feel is important to point out as Sarah is a long term carer whom we are very proud of and one that has been with us for 12 years, which also indicates the success story of Medway’s Shared Lives Scheme.
Sarah is a great advocate for Shared Lives and for Ken who she has encouraged and supported with his love of Art.
My apologies – I will correct that in the text, Alex