Every few months, there is an article somewhere in the press getting excited about the potential for robots in social care. The latest is in the New Statesman: Automated assistance: how robots are changing social care. Samir Jeraj cites two examples of tech helping people to connect with services and notes the ethical challenges: Clenton Farquharson, who employs his own personal assistants and is Chair of the Think Local Act Personal programme for transforming social care, argues for “a rights-based approach”. “As well as accessibility and usability, manufacturers and providers should also be mindful of making assumptions about users’ needs… particularly for marginalised groups” who are “often not around the table”.

There is a long history of looking for quick fixes for the slow moving tragedy which is our current social care system. The National Audit Office today says that despite “substantial efforts from those across the sector to deliver these essential services in such challenging circumstances,” longstanding problems mean that “levels of unpaid care remain high, too many adults have unmet needs and forecasts predict growing demand for care. The lack of a long-term vision for care and short-term funding has hampered local authorities’ ability to innovate and plan for the long term, and constrained investment in accommodation and much-needed workforce development. In a vast and diverse social care market, the current accountability and oversight arrangements do not work.”

Below the attention-grabbing headline, the New Statesman article makes it clear that, in reality, robots are not currently changing social care. It gives two or three examples, the first of which is actually about tech connecting a sick school pupil to his lessons pre-pandemic, and then one small experiment using artificial intelligence to ‘chat’ to lonely care home residents about their interests, and an interesting academic research programme: the National Robotarium.

I’ve nothing against any of this: we are part of a government-backed consortium which is exploring how to combine machine learning, geospatial data mapping and grassroots community action using the Tribe application, and I feel hugely excited by the potential to combine tech and big data with community initiatives that until recently have been entirely offline and analogue.

It is worth, however, thinking hard about what problems we are trying to fix with technology. Many of the innovations grouped under the ‘robotics’ heading are more to do with AI-assisted social interaction than machines providing practical help. I am sure it is possible to create tech which will interact with isolated people in a life-like enough fashion to alleviate some of their loneliness. But why would we want to? As strengths-based models like Homeshare demonstrate, the best solution to a person’s loneliness, is to find another person who is either lonely themselves, or at least has spare social energy. Our Homeshare and Shared Lives teams and national networks are already exploring how tech can target, speed up and scale up those connections. As the NAO found, austerity hit social care hard, but as we’ve seen during the pandemic, there is now more than ever an abundance of caring and social capacity out there in our communities. The New Statesman reports that £34m is being invested in robotics research. When it arrives, the long-awaited social care Green Paper will need to demonstrate that level of ambition in scaling up the community-based innovations we already have in our sector: let’s get as excited about investing in people as we do about investing in robots.

‘Nan Nurture’ Homeshare on the BBC

This BBC Morning Live edition has one of the best features on Homeshare I’ve seen, from just over 7 minutes in:

“It’s a shared responsibility… always having their backs… but as much as you are nurturing them, you are getting some Nan Nurture back”

Glimmers of hope

We all know the value of being close to the people we love. That feeling of belonging, of being loved, and of being useful make for a good life. The measures we’ve all had to take to keep ourselves and those around us safe during the pandemic have made being close to people really difficult.

But while we’ve seen isolation become a bigger and bigger problem for lots of people who need support, the people involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare have been a bright spot in an otherwise dark year. They have been there for others, keeping people connected and even finding ways to have fun and discover new talents, like Ivor and Peter in Shared Lives South West who have become accomplished painters:

Sharon and David Shearing responded to lockdown by going the extra mile to make sure the people they support are still active, leading rich and fulfilling lives with activities tailored to them. This was the moment the Shearings found out they’d been highly commended in our Shared Lives carer of the year award!

In Homeshare, we’ve seen how having somebody at home with you can make a vital difference to people’s experience of lockdown. Indeed, some matches have been living it up through the pandemic!

Many of you have been getting into the Christmas spirit, like Shared Lives Hertfordshire who played a fancy dress Christmas bingo!

While Gillian and Chanroth, who live with Shared Lives carer Tracey, have been getting in the festive mood by decorating their family Christmas tree:

Homeshare and Shared Lives are based on the security of a welcoming home environment and good relationships, and it is increasingly looking as though home is one of the safest places to be at the moment – especially if you share that home with someone who’s looking out for you.

We know our members have been working even harder, for even longer, than usual. A large majority of local areas have provided extra support and reimbursement for Shared Lives carers during the pandemic, but we are working hard with Shared Lives carers, scheme workers and councils, to make things easier.

This means getting day support services re-started, reimbursement for increased costs and ensuring Shared Lives carers can get help and advice when they need it. Our local campaigning has resulted in pay increases and financial support for Shared Lives carers in a number of areas now. Our Homeshare team have been working hard with Homeshare organisations to help them face the new challenges at a time when we need inter-generational support more than ever.

Despite everything, we’ve seen Shared Lives and Homeshare grow in the past year and we’ve got some new projects on the way, including online Shared Lives carer recruitment, a new form of peer support for families who are under pressure, and more support for survivors of domestic abuse. 2021 looks like it will start with a desperately tough few months at least, but we will be doing everything we can to bring heart, home and hope to as many people as we can.

Wishing you all a safe and peaceful Christmas.

Join us at 2pm today!

What should 21st century care look and feel like? How can we make it happen? I’m excited to be part of a discussion in which two of our Ambassadors, Meg Lewis and Tom Milnes, join me and renowned authors and thinkers Hilary Cottam (Radical Help) and Madeleine Bunting (Labours of Love: the crisis in care) to talk about how to make care and support feel more human. You can still register for this free event here.

This is part of our two day national conference which has been generously supported by Weber Shandwick, The Flipside, Towergate Insurance Brokers and our designers, Design Integrity. Thanks to them and to our amazing team at Shared Lives Plus who have put together an exciting programme for over 200 Shared Lives and Homeshare people and practitioners.

The real Homeshare

As we come to the end of ‘Lodgers for Codgers’, the Channel 4 documentary based loosely on the Homeshare model of intergenerational shared living, we are reflecting on some of the key issues and how Homeshare can be the answer in the real world beyond the TV experiment. This is a guest blog by Homeshare Sector Development Officer Alice Williams.

Real Homeshare relies on careful matching 

The Channel 4 show uses a speed dating café to match older and younger people who, following their short introduction, agree to move in together for five days in exchange for some rent and help around the house. ‘Real’ Homeshare in the UK is a bit different. It is not a commercial arrangement with a ‘landlord’ and ‘tenant’ relationship. All Homeshare matches are arranged and facilitated by a Homeshare organisation, which carefully vets and matches each party for safety and compatibility and shared interests. They are given time to get to know each other before moving in and the match is monitored and supported on an ongoing basis, to ensure continued safety and security and would not put people with conflicting views or lifestyles in the same house, although I guess this would make for slightly less exciting TV!

margaret and holly in leeds
margaret and holly in leeds

Real Homesharers Margaret and Holly in Leeds

The young people in the series were all facing real issues with housing. Some were still living at home, unable to get that taste of freedom and independence like Liam, Jake and Sophie. They were facing homelessness like Ciaro, or had never experienced what a safe and secure home was like Marvell and Chè. Lucy was even considering living in a van to afford her chosen city.  Social media, lifestyle publications and shops sell the dream of your perfect home and the private rented sector knows this. The cost of having that all-important place to call home is rising beyond many people’s means.

sheila emma emily cheltenham
sheila emma emily cheltenham

Real Homesharers, Sheila, Emma and Emily in Cheltenham

Whether you’re in your 20s or 80s, everyone needs a place to call home. Now more than ever home is a sanctuary. When home isn’t right, others parts of life start to unravel, whether it’s mental health, employment or relationships. Being secure and happy at home is the lynchpin for your general well-being. The motivation for real Homeshare has to be about more than only saving money: for it to work, you must really want to share your time and home life with someone else.  In Homeshare people are matched for compatible interests and outlooks on life. You are a lifeline for each other. It’s more than a room to rent; it’s a friendship and genuine desire to help each other.

There are around 1000 people Homesharing across the UK. Many Homeshare organisations are start-ups and making matches can be hard due to lack of suitable and available participants. There are estimated to be 3.8 million older people living alone.  If only 1% of these considered Homeshare, we could create a vibrant and thriving alterative to a housing market which fails so many.

Read about real Homeshare matches here

Find your local Homeshare provider to enquire with here 

The power of companionship

My colleagues Debs, Alice and Ben who support the UK’s Homeshare organisations and the Homeshare International movement have shared this update on their work during the pandemic:

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to influence every aspect our lives, we are proud that Homeshare is still open for business. Across our network, organisations are continuing to match people keen for supportive shared living, and Homeshare matches are showing the power of companionship as a means to not only survive the pandemic and the measures designed to tackle it, but get through it with humour, style and hope. As Sylvia, Householder in London remarked:

Neither of us could have predicted that home-sharing would turn out this way. But it really has helped us both so much through lockdown. Olivia is a great companion, so kind, helpful and full of life. She’s just a lovely flatmate…She’s taught me to use Zoom and FaceTime so I’m able to keep in touch with my children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. But nothing beats having someone with you.”

As we reflect on the tremendous difficulties faced in some areas of the residential care sector, it is a source of great relief that incidences of infection and deaths from Covid-19 have been mercifully low in Homeshare. Our model is based on the security of a welcoming home environment and good relationships, and it is increasingly looking as though home is one of the safest places to be at the moment – especially if you share that home with someone who’s looking out for you.

We are acutely aware of the relative greater danger posed by the virus to older people. We’ve always known that entering a new living arrangement with someone is a big commitment, which is why robust matching, safeguarding, and follow-up support procedures have always been the bedrock of the Homeshare process. Our network have further adapted and specialised these processes to bring risk of infection for both householders and Homesharers down to an absolute minimum.

‘Sarah Kaye, Director and Coordinator at Homeshare Living CIC, said: “Homesharers have become a lifeline to many older and vulnerable people during the coronavirus outbreak and we are working to support existing households and continuing to make new matches in the safest way that we can. Digital technology, social distancing and following all hygiene guidance has helped us to make this possible. Homeshare has truly never been more important.”’

While the death toll from the virus continues to rise, we are mindful too of the profound danger posed by a different type of pandemic – that of loneliness and isolation. The world is slowly waking up to just how deadly loneliness can be – it increases the likelihood of mortality by 26% – and during the lockdown the potential for isolated people to lose what little social connection they did have is great. Matching an older person with someone willing to share home life and provide some support is an empowering step against this danger.

Therefore we’re determined to keep supporting our network to facilitate life-changing Homeshare matches, between fully-informed adults who have decided they want to live together. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden recently said that “Coronavirus and social distancing has forced all of us to look loneliness in the eye. So recognising the signs and tackling the stigma has never been more important.”  Homeshare has always been about understanding that everyone, no matter their age, has particular needs and unique strengths, and that by bringing people together we can solve problems and make people happier. The need for Homeshare now is more urgent than ever

You can read guidance from Homeshare UK  on adapting practice to support new and exisiting Homesahre matches here

Find your local Homeshare Provider here

Compassion fatigue

This is a guest blog by my colleague Ali Miller who leads on our work developing supportive shared living for survivors of domestic abuse and modern slavery. It originally appeared here.

Looking ahead to the Easter bank holiday weekend might not feel like such a luxury this year. Many people in the Shared Lives community are facing additional pressures and having to rise to challenges they never expected to face. So how do we suddenly adapt and take on these new challenges?

We all know where we’re at with our weekly routines and this is the same for people accessing Shared Lives. Whether that’s attending day services, getting together with friends, hitting the gym or volunteering, having to give up the things that we love is hard. Naturally, it can be even harder for people who really depend on these routines, or who may not fully understand why they’re missing out.

It’s a big challenge for people living in Shared Lives and the Shared Lives carers who support them. For carers, trying to help meet the unmet needs of people you care about can feel relentless when life is so restricted. As much as you feel someone’s frustrations and understand their emotional struggles, even the most empathetic person can develop compassion fatigue.

Compassion fatigue happens when someone becomes so drained and exhausted by the behaviours and needs of the people they support that there are real physiological changes in the brain. This impacts people’s ability to connect and empathise with the people they support in the same way. Experiencing compassion fatigue can cause tension and guilt but it is a normal human response to supporting people in crisis and distress.

Shared Lives carers shape their lives around connecting with people and supporting them to live fulfilling lives, so feeling stuck or helpless can feel like you’re not getting it right. A common response from professionals is to bombard carers with strategies and whilst these can provide solutions when the time is right, for anyone experiencing compassion fatigue it’s unlikely that strategies will be heard or taken up.

It’s easy if you’re used to caring for others to overlook your own needs. The same traits that make people great Shared Lives carers- empathy, compassion and genuine care, can turn into compassion fatigue unless self-care is prioritised. In fact, the antidote to compassion fatigue is self-care.

There’s no doubt that self-care seems even harder to make space for when lives are being turned upside-down, but it is vital. Giving your body and mind a mini-break ultimately helps everyone; it’s not selfish or indulgent, it’s a necessity.  Here are our three top tips for self-care

  1. Let go of perfectionism.

Remember that struggle is normal. If someone living with you is struggling, it’s not always fixable. You can be helpful, supportive and look for strategies, but you can’t always ‘make it all better’ and that’s ok. Just by being there, listening, and reminding someone that you care is helpful in itself. If you’re doing your best, you are doing great.

  1. Take time for yourself.

Self-care comes in many forms and it’s important to meet your needs. So, you can’t get to a yoga class or meet your friends down the pub, but how about having a bath, phoning a friend, cooking a nutritious meal or getting an early night- remind yourself that prioritising your needs helps everyone.

  1. Make mindful moments

We can get consumed by stressful moments, especially when our resilience is running low. If you find yourself in a tense moment, focus on something distant like the branch of a tree bobbing about outside your window, let it take you out of the moment. If you struggle with being mindful in the moment, but you’ve dealt with something stressful, take your phone to the bathroom and listen to a five-minute meditation.

Above all remember that you are important and worthy of self-care. So, this Easter weekend try to give yourself permission to check in with your own needs. If you find yourself asking for help, doing a YouTube Zumba class, or having a lie-in, congratulate yourself on meeting your needs and being kind to yourself because that is what success looks like right now.

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New support for Shared Lives and Homeshare

We have launched some new support for people and organisations involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare:

  • A Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) helpline, staffed by experts from British Institute for Learning Disabilities (Bild) and supported by government and NHS England. Psychologist have taken the first calls helping Shared Lives carers who are finding behaviours challenging now that people are at home, with routines disrupted and day services closed.
  • A free subscription service for Shared Lives carers who are not members of Shared Lives Plus: this will make sure essential information and peer support gets to all Shared Lives carers during lockdown. This will run to at least June.
  • More regular support and network calls with all the UK’s Homeshare organisations.
  • Our ‘cuppa for carers’ catch up with #SharedLives carers and our support team – Tuesdays and Thursdays 3pm on Zoom – email us and click on the link we send or dial in:
  • We are working hard on the issue of income replacement for self-employed Shared Lives carers, with the backing of politicians of all parties. We are liaising with Treasury officials to ensure that the Chancellor’s income support scheme works with the Shared Lives tax break.
  • We are supporting Shared Lives schemes to get vital PPE equipment and access to other initiatives which should be available to the whole of social care.