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

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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: membership@sharedlivesplus.org.uk
  • 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.

Sharing lives and self-isolating

Across the UK, thousands of Shared Lives households are at home as self-isolation becomes mandatory. This means that disabled people, people with mental health problems and others who need significant support are living in a safe place with their Shared Lives carer and for many, this is the safest place they could be. Unlike other services which rely on a staff rota, no one need come in and out of the home and the household can be more resilient and less disrupted by self-isolation than services which lose workers who are self-isolating but currently unable to get tested.

We also know that Shared Lives households are under pressure:

  1. 80% of Shared Lives carers are over 50 and 20% are over 70 and themselves in the at-risk group.
  2. Usually, Shared Lives should not be 24/7 care, but at the moment it is: this can mean huge pressure on households as routines are disrupted and there is no break from caring for someone who is distressed and whose behaviour may be difficult to manage.
  3. Like others, Shared Lives households are largely without protective equipment (PPE) and facing shortages of basics and food caused by panic buying.
  4. As short breaks and day support services are cancelled, many self-employed Shared Lives carers are without income, and the government has not yet addressed this for the self-employed. This also means there are Shared Lives carers with capacity to do more and who want to help. We’ve had members wanting to open their homes to patients and NHS staff.

At Shared Lives Plus, our team moved quickly to 100% home working and online and have been working flat out on two priorities for our members: inform and connect. People need the right information – not always easy when most government info has been unclear, incomplete or has needed to be corrected. Not helped by government making a drastic u-turn in its strategy (which was the right thing to do: their modelling turned out to be wrong) but then telling people nothing had really changed: far better to have been clear that the strategy had changed and why. Connection will be of growing importance the longer this situation continues.

We are addressing the four pressure points above:

  1. We have issued guidance for local organisations on identifying and prioritising the households most at risk, mitigating risks where possible and planning for possible scenarios, including infections within the home and Shared Lives carers being unable to care. We have outlined fast-tracked procedures to get new support carers approved.
  2. The key message from our guidance on supporting Shared Lives households under pressure is to help the household build its resilience and two kinds of connections: with other Shared Lives households and with neighbours. We are aiming to get a new Positive Behaviour Support advice service up and running shortly if we can resource it. We’re helping members share what’s working and the team are taking calls where people are struggling.
  3. We have been ensuring that Shared Lives carers, and community care services more generally, are being considered along with other social care services, for PPE and giving practical advice. The UK’s failure to plan for PPE demand mystifies me and has left thousands of the people we rely on most at unnecessary risk. This appears to be being rectified, but local problems are still huge. We’ve written to all the supermarkets explaining what Shared Lives carers and Homesharers are why they need access to food.
  4. Government announcements are imminent about support for the self-employed. In the meantime, our advice to Shared Lives schemes has been: do everything you can to support your Shared Lives carers. We will need everyone during this crisis and in the recession which will follow it. Councils have been given funding to support stability in the social care sector, and the good ones are using it to keep providers afloat and social care workers in this vital workforce. We are supporting Shared Lives schemes to identify their spare capacity and consider how Shared Lives carers who are not currently working can safely support households who are struggling, and respond where possible to the need to discharge thousands of people from hospital. Virus testing, adequate PPE and ensuring people and organisations are working as part of one team will be vital in making this work.

I’d like to thank the 10,000 Shared Lives households and 500 Homeshare households who are contributing so much to keeping people safe and well during this crisis, and the Shared Lives Plus team who have made me so proud to work for such a great charity these past couple of weeks.

James and Bronte
James and Bronte digging vegetables at home, taken by Shared Lives carer Andy

Accelerating Ideas – shaping local systems

In two blogs, I and my colleague Anna McEwen will reflect on what we achieved, struggled with, and learned around two of the main objectives of our recently completed Accelerating Ideas UK development project, supported by Nesta and funded by the National Lottery Community Fund.

  • establishing a new strategic advice arm and supporting commissioners to start and expand Shared Lives and Homeshare services
  • establishing our work in all four UK nations, building on our success and government support in England and Wales

We wanted to develop a strategic advice business for two main reasons: to help local leaders to work with their  provider organisations to improve and grow Shared Lives, Homeshare and other personalised models, and to bring us a sustainable source of income so that we rely less on grant funding.

This work started to in earnest in 2017-18 and accelerated rapidly: nearly 70 contracts to date, including work with Australia’s changing disability support service and in British Columbia. A typical example is the Shared Lives service review for Bridgend Council which included an evaluation and analysis of Shared Lives in Bridgend, and a comprehensive business case and options appraisal looking at externalised and in-house delivery, working with other localities, and growing the scheme. A key aspect of our work is the work of the team of people with lived experience and their Shared Lives carers, who carry out peer-to-peer research, alongside colleagues who look at practice, use of resources and compliance, to produce a rounded picture of what a local service does, its outcomes, but also how it feels to the people who actually use and deliver it.

One of our largest projects has been with Greater Manchester Health and Social Care Partnership (GMHSCP) to develop and implement an ambitious five year plan for an additional 600 people using Shared Lives, across Greater Manchester. Jo Chilton, Programme Director, Adult Social Care Transformation Programme said, “Greater Manchester has high ambitions for scaling up Shared Lives but we want to ensure that people currently involved in Shared Lives and those who may wish to be supported in Shared Lives in future, help assess how ready we are to do more, and what would need to happen to make our ambition a reality. Our partnership with Shared Lives Plus is vital to getting this right from the start.” This included a detailed evaluation of five of the ten Shared Lives schemes using a combination of scheme health checks and data analysis. The city region is investing and working towards the UK’s most ambitious goal to date, of  15% of people who have a learning disability and use social care to be using Shared Lives.

Our main challenge has not been winning work, it has been expanding our delivery capacity to keep pace with demand. We use a small number of associates for specialist tasks, but a lot of the delivery has been in-house, and the expansion of our capacity off the back of demand for support, rather than through grant-funded expansion, is one of a number of culture changes for our team: we have needed to be willing to take some different kinds of risk to expand. We tailor our work to the local places we are working in, rather than around a bid submitted to a grant maker.  In changing our model, we were focused on remaining true to our values and serving our members, who are 6,000 Shared Lives carers and 170 local organisations. The key to this has been to develop an offer which is shaped by our values and coproduction approach, and marketing this and our unique place as the only national Shared Lives and Homeshare organisation, not as extra cost or time, but as the best reason to work with us: after all, what would be the purpose in expanding the most personalised support approaches, if you didn’t pursue that expansion in a personalised way?

Some of the impacts of this are more expected than others. We have long understood the need to get local areas to invest in development work, if they are to value it, so we hoped to see the buy-in we have achieved through contracted work, but one risk we identified was that it might make our campaigning work harder, around issues like Shared Lives carer pay, for instance. In fact, embedding the practice of coproduction with Shared Lives carers, and developing closer relationships with local leaders, has in some areas made it easier to raise issues around valuing supporting – and paying – Shared Lives carers, rather than harder.

It’s not all been plain sailing, of course. All the advisors who helped us develop this business talked about the risks of under-valuing and under-pricing our work, over-promising, and under-estimating the time needed for work. We thought we’d understood that advice, but we did all of those things and had to learn the hard way. This has increased pressure on our team at times. We’ve coped with those challenges though and this new way of working has not only given us a more sustainable future as a charity, it’s brought a level of learning and insight which we could not have achieved in any other way.

Healing the Generational Divide

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Integration has launched Healing the Generational Divide interim report.  We gave evidence to the inquiry on how Homeshare can bring generations together, such as these housemates with a seven decade age gap.

The report highlights four areas for bridging divides:

  • Intergenerational communities: the role of local, grassroots initiatives which unite generations through shared interests such as art, music, politics and conversation, what they can do to be more effective, and how local and central government can help them thrive.
  • Intergenerational public services: how intergenerational connection can be embedded throughout care and education, on public transport, and via schemes to help older people stay active in their communities.
  • Intergenerational housing and planning: how existing housing can be used to improve intergenerational connection, and how new housing, as well as whole towns and cities, can be designed for all ages.
  • Technology and intergenerational connection: the role of technology as both a source of disconnection and loneliness among different age groups and as a potential tool for strengthening intergenerational connections.

It also suggests some interesting initiatives alongside ours such as:

  • 1p charge on self-service checkout machines:  technological changes, which reduce human contact, can fund initiatives that support greater social interactions.
  • Co-location within care and education: all nurseries, schools and care homes should be encouraged to link up.
  • A new flagship national volunteering service for older people.
  • Tax break for volunteering within public services.
  • ‘Take Your Headphones Off Day’: to promote conversation on public transport

Interesting and no doubt media-hooking ideas. But I think that Homeshare reminds us is that there is no reason for the generations to live separately. This divide is not something which has happened due to human nature, it’s been inadvertently but actively fostered by the way we have organised public services and public spaces around age-specific needs or activities. There’s also an economic element, particularly in middle-class areas where housing has become unaffordable to an entire generation. We need to reverse those divisive policies not to tackle a problem which has occurred naturally, but because our current policies are creating and maintaining the problem.

We will see fewer intergenerational divides when we are able to see people first and foremost as individuals, not as their ages.

Going global

Last week I and my colleagues were in Brussels at a gathering of international leaders to talk about how the UK could play a more leading role in supporting countries to work more closely together.

What? No, nothing to do with that!

We were at the biennial gathering of the leaders of Homeshare organisations from around the world, organised via Homeshare International and hosted this time by the inspirational 1 Toit 2 Ages (1 roof, 2 generations) Brussels-based Homeshare organisation, which supports almost as many Homeshare households in one city as the UK supports across our 23 programmes. Our hosts put on a great programme which even included a Minister and the Queen of Belgium: Homeshare is certainly getting noticed these days.

The congress included a number of social entrepreneurs who are taking the concept of intergenerational living, and of shared living more generally, into new areas. Projet Lazare sources leases in under-occupied buildings, or where a landlord is willing to donate use of a flat for a couple of years, and sets up houseshares between students and people who have either been homeless or are risk of homelessness. These supportive households enable people to return from the limbo of homelessness or precarity to feel fully human again: hence ‘Project Lazarus’. We also heard from Homeshare International President Professor Malcolm Johnson on the learning from the popular TV show following an experiment to bring nurseries into care homes, which saw friendships being struck up between people with nearly a century between their ages.

We came home inspired, determined to grow Homeshare to match the scale it has achieved across the channel and further afield, and with lots of ideas about how the homesharing concept could be used in many new ways. It was fun trying to follow presentations in other languages – and to explore the different approaches, challenges and cultural assumptions of many different nations.

We also announced two bits of exciting news. Firstly, Shared Lives Plus will be partnering with Homeshare International, which is a volunteer-run UK-based charitable company, to build its global work and with the aim of winning new resources to ensure it can reach its potential. As part of this commitment, we will be hosting the next world congress in 2021, in Liverpool. Planning has already started and we are hugely excited.

As Brexit chaos and uncertainty continues here, I don’t think anyone knows what the UK’s relationship to the EU will be by 2021, but at least in the Homeshare world, our European and global relationships will be closer than ever!

Happy International Women’s Day

Happy International Women’s day from all of us at Shared Lives Plus, to everyone using Shared Lives and Homeshare to create better lives and stronger communities.

Like so much in social care, these models owe everything to the often unsung women who pioneered them, and all those who continue to make them amazing today. Maggie Kuhn invented Homeshare in the US. Nan Maitland spearheaded the UK’s adoption. In more recent years this has been led by Elizabeth Mills OBE of Homeshare International.

Our President, Sue Newton OBE started PSS‘s pioneering Shared Lives service in the late ’70s. At PSS’s centenary recently I learned about its incredible founder, Eleanor Rathbone, who said, ‘What ought to be done, can be done’. So today in particular I’m thinking about all those shoulders we are standing on.