Our 25th anniversary conference this week was the biggest we’ve ever had with 220 people. It saw us returning to Liverpool, where on the 5th October, 1978 our founder Sue Newton MBE established a Boarding out Scheme for the Elderly, with Liverpool Personal Service Society, a charity now called PSS (person shaped support) and still providing Shared Lives. Sue, my predecessor Sian Lockwood OBE and I gave a short talk on the modern history of our movement and our hopes for the future. Of course, Shared Lives dates back to 14th Century Belgium and Homeshare is an adaptation of intergenerational living which has been a way of life for many throughout human history.
At times like this I’m very conscious that those of us involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare today care for two linked movements which have been built by the small acts of kindness of thousands of people we’ll never meet. We owe it to them to take the time to understand the values and ethos of those two unique models just as deeply as the people within Shared Lives and Homeshare households get to know each other. We need to understand the ethos of sharing home and family life, the practices which make it work, and its deep wisdom.
In contrast, lots of things in life are speeding up. We can see that in care and support where the shortest care visits are now only 15 minutes. Barely time to get in the door, certainly no time for a chat as a rushed and harried worker tries to take care of someone’s most intimate support needs before rushing on to their next client. These services might save money in the short term, but the cost in loneliness and health problems further down the line is incalculable. As public services reach breaking point, we are seeing more and more pressure for quick fixes and cut price care. But throughout our history we have seen the value of working at people’s own pace, moving slowly at times in order to do the right thing. Real care is not just the activity of caring, it is the emotion of caring too.
Our organisation has changed in many ways over the last 25 years, with a new name, many new faces and work which is bringing Shared Lives and Homeshare to entirely new groups of people. Our conferences are always co-led by people with lived experience and this year our Ambassadors led a session alongside Liverpool’s social services Director Dyane Aspinall in which the whole audience thought about what in the Shared Lives model we should keep, what we should stop doing and what we should develop (‘bag, bin or trolley’). Our latest developments have included working with the Department for Education on Shared Lives for care leavers and with Safe Lives on Shared Lives for women who have survived domestic abuse. We have seen the number of Homeshare organisations double as part of a national partnership funded by the Big Lottery Fund and The Lloyds Bank Foundation, with news of the first ever Homeshare match in my home town of Leeds coming during the conference.
But the idea of what one Shared Lives scheme calls simply ‘a heart and a home’ has not changed and nor will it ever. In 25 years’ time I hope our successors are celebrating a movement which see everyone offered Shared Lives, Homeshare and perhaps some new shared living models we haven’t thought of yet, with tens of thousands of people living well as a result. But I hope that their organisation, their sector, their movement, feels just as people-sized and as personal as Shared Lives and Homeshare feel to people today.