Accelerating Ideas – working across the home nations

In this second blog of two about our , Alex Fox (CEO) and Anna McEwen (Executive Director of Support and Development) set out some of the lessons from Shared Lives Plus’ Accelerating Ideas UK development project, supported by Nesta and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund to develop Shared Lives and Homeshare across all four home nations.

There has been Shared Lives in all four home nations for many years, but our capacity to support the sector outside of England was limited, and a large majority of the 14,000 people using Shared Lives live in England. Welsh Government support has enabled us to address that gap in Wales for some years now, and Wales has full coverage and has started to grow in recent years. The Accelerating Ideas programme enabled us to bring our work to Scotland and Northern Ireland for the first time.

Over the past three years, Shared Lives in Scotland has grown healthily, rising to around 17%. Much has hinged on one or two ambitious and successful areas showing the potential. Moray’s Integrated Joint Board recently approved the transfer of 4- 8% of the learning disability budget into Shared Lives, because they had seen the success of the model for themselves as a day support. Now Edinburgh, Fife, and Falkirk are growing. East Lothian has plans to reach more older and young people in transition from care. Three new schemes are being established, two focused initially on people with learning disabilities and Dundee set up to support older people.

Conversely, where an area has no existing Shared Lives scheme, and leaders have no direct experience of it, winning hearts and minds takes significant work and success often requires a number of leaders to align at the same moment: in one area we spent years working with people supporting carers, disability champions, the Health board and potential providers of the new service to co-design it. Re-structuring left only two of five relevant senior leaders in post, so that process had to start again and is only gaining momentum again a year later.

In Northern Ireland, the sector had remained very small for years, with awareness low, little senior leadership attention, recruitment difficult and mixed views on development and diversification to reach new groups. Ironically, it was following the collapse of the Northern Ireland assembly, which put many areas of public service reform on hold along with the cross-party support for Shared Lives which we had worked so hard on, that a Shared Lives expansion project led by the Health & Social Care Board was established in July 2018 with £270,000 of non-recurrent funding, with funding made available to all five NI Health & Social Care Trusts for Shared Lives posts. The challenge now is to convert that investment into capacity, recruitment and impact on people’s lives.

A clear lesson from our experiences of working in all four nations is that each nation has to own its own development programme, based around senior staff who are embedded into the national policymaking and practice community. When resources are very limited, we have in the past prioritised direct support for local organisations. That has welcome impact on the ground, but that member-facing work doesn’t necessarily raise the sector’s profile and political support, or lead to longer-term investment. The approach of investing in strategic posts who can build profile, support and evidence feels like the only route towards lasting growth, as the new resources we have attracted in Northern Ireland and Scotland suggests. After years of almost all the growth being concentrated in England, we are now seeing growth which is genuinely UK-wide, with each nation able to learn from the others, as you can see from this story from Moray Shared Lives, which has pioneered dementia support.

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