I’m biased of course, but the Shared Lives Plus conference doesn’t feel like other national conferences. Partly that’s because the people involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare are a friendly bunch, and make the event welcoming and informal, despite having nearly 200 attendees. What’s made the most difference though, I think, is that people with lived experience take a central role. Our Ambassadors are all people with lived experience of using Shared Lives support and they co-chair the event. This year Meg, who spoke about her Shared Lives experience in parliament earlier in the year, co-chaired with Victoria Collins, the acting Director of Adult Services for Milton Keynes, who gave us a warm welcome to her city. Ambassadors also help run the workshops and speak in the plenary session, this year on the theme of equalities. You will find their presentations over the coming days on the Shared Lives Plus website.
This year, Peggy, a Shared Lives carer, talked about her experiences supporting a young person born male, who has at times identified as female and at times as male. She talked movingly of her own learning curve on an area of life that she previously knew nothing about and the lessons she had drawn from the people who live with her: “We are taught we should accept people who are different. How patronising. Who are we – the majority – to decide whether to ‘accept’ someone. We should value everyone for who they are but most of all we should learn from them.”
Ambassadors James, Michael and Nick all gave their own take on equality. Nick took us on the travels he has been on with support from his Shared Lives household, and said that for him, equality is being “different by equal”. He says, “I have never wanted to be anyone else. I am far too happy being me.”
Michael’s initial reaction to his manager asking if he could present on equality and diversity was “What are you going on about?!” Michael’s presentation echoed Clenton Farquharson’s. Clenton, Chair of Think Local, Act Personal, reminded us that the language we in the social care and charity sector can use is often baffling to people, and that we need to speak plainly and stay down to earth, if we are to be inclusive and share our power. Michael, who is a Toy Story fan, said that he could pursue his own dreams, “to infinity and beyond”, because of the quality of support he gets and his message to each delegate was to remember that:
“We are all good.
We are all special
We are all pretty cool, in our own way.”
If we remember that in everything we do, we won’t go far wrong…….