Pretty cool, in our own way

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…….


The personal is political

My social media timelines are full of two very contrasting sets of stories today: the stories about people coming together, as Shared Lives organisations celebrate Shared Lives week, and images of distraught children being taken off their parents at the US border. There could hardly be a starker contrast: our capacity to unite and to divide.

People who choose to share their lives with people to whom they have no legal or family obligation are doing something both natural and radical. They are making a choice to build their whole lives around the idea of bringing people together. They send us a powerful message: one which feels more important now than ever, so we are fortunate to be able to take their messages into parliament tomorrow, for our annual parliamentary reception. It is a truly cross-party event, this year hosted by Liz Kendall MP, last year by Alistair Burt MP. Norman Lamb MP will be speaking alongside Kit Malthouse MP. We’re going on a day when politicians will once again be debating Brexit and bitter divides will be laid bare. Our stories of people supporting each other to live life to the full could be seen as light relief by the parliamentarians, but I hope they feel the power of those stories, their radicalism and how much we need people who bring people together right now.

The choices that our members make are very personal, but as feminist Carol Hanisch said in 1970, “the personal is political”. So this year, we are celebrating the personal stories of Shared Lives as usual, but also calling on politicians of all parties, locally and nationally, to value Shared Lives carers, ensuring they have the training, back-up and fair pay they need to carry on making their very personal contributions to the future of our health and care system, and to building stronger communities and a more unified society in these divided times.

We need a Homeshare Development Officer

Salary Scale: £32,966 per annum (19,285 pro rata). Hours: 2.5 days per week

Accountable to: Policy and Development Officer (Homeshare)

Location: Liverpool Office or Home based

Duration: Fixed term until 31st March 2020

Shared Lives Plus is the UK network for Shared Lives and Homeshare. Our members are Shared Lives carers and workers, and Homeshare programmes.

We are looking for a dynamic individual to build on a successful two-year period of growth and expansion of Homeshare across the UK. This key role will provide continued strategic support and guidance to our network members and provide stability and dedicated support for Homeshare pilot programme schemes while also supporting the wind down of unsuccessful programmes where necessary. The successful applicant will help to drive up the quality of delivery of the Homeshare and support the development of a sustainable future for the Homeshare UK network through the promotion and development of new funding models and opportunities, supporting development of new schemes and new models of Homeshare.

Shared Lives Plus is committed to equality of opportunity for all staff. Applications from individuals are encouraged regardless of age, disability, sex, gender reassignment, sexual orientation, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and marriage and civil partnerships.

Deadline for completed applications 9.00 am on 24th April 2018. Interviews will take place in Liverpool on 1st May 2018. Closing date: 30 April 2018

Shared Lives Plus Apply here.

New ways to share your home

The Guardian featured Shared Lives and Homeshare as part of a story about ways to share your home. This is an extract from the full article:

Before he moved in with Alison Cooper, her husband Gary and their 21-year-old son William two years ago, Jonathan, 43, who has autism, would spend his days roaming Taunton. He was living with his elderly parents; living with peers hadn’t worked out, and he had unsuccessfully lived alone for a while – cooking is beyond his ability, and he was living off ready meals and takeaways, which was affecting his health.

Alison, 52, who works with people with learning disabilities, heard about Shared Lives; she and her family had hosted international students for years, but this seemed like the chance to live with someone more permanently.

Now, Alison says, Jonathan is happy and settled, spends two days a week at a day centre and works two days a week in another one. “His confidence has grown. Before, if he had to have a meeting with a social worker, he would write things down rather than talk to them, but now you can’t stop him talking.” This year he says he wants to go on holiday, which he’s never said before.

It has been a rewarding experience, Alison says. Did she worry it would change the dynamic at home? “I did. It has to be something the whole family wants. But now there’s no changing it – Jonathan is part of the family.” He visits his parents at weekends, but also spends a lot of time with the Coopers. “He knows we’re not just caring for him, he’s living his own life.”

Andy Marsland lives with George Oprișanu in Heywood, Greater Manchester

Andy, 67, had lived alone for 14 years before George moved in last August; he had become ever more isolated following his divorce 20 years ago, and particularly after he retired as an overhead line supervisor. “I sat in front of the box all day,” he says. Social workers from a local social enterprise called PossAbilities suggested Andy take part in Homeshare, which links up lonely older people with young folk who want cheap rent, and which is funded by Lloyds Bank Foundation and the Big Lottery Fund.

George, 30, chanced upon Homeshare online back home in Romania looking for digs in Heywood, where he had got a job working in the Argos depot. After he was cleared for Homeshare, he and George had a brief Skype chat and agreed to give it a go. He pays Andy £18 a week towards utilities, plus £150 a month to Homeshare, making it a much cheaper option than private rental. “My colleagues at Argos are jealous at how little I pay,” he says.

Under the Homeshare agreement, George promises to spend 10 hours a week with Andy and is to sleep at home at least five nights a week. Sometimes they go out bowling, “though he won’t come any more because I keep beating him”, Andy says. They don’t like each other’s food, so cook separately. But George is learning more English, or at least Lancastrian, such as “Al si thi”, Andy’s preferred form of saying goodbye.


Ministering to loneliness

This is reblogged from the Department of Health blog:

Doreen, 79, offers one of her spare rooms to a younger person who needs somewhere affordable to live as part of Rochdale Possibilities’ Homeshare scheme.She was interviewed about how this tackles loneliness for older people – and often for their younger housemates too – by news agencies from as far away as Canada.

Doreen said: “I was on my own, I did not like it, and now that I have got Lucile I have someone to talk to, share meals with and someone to go out with. We go shopping, to the cinema, to a pantomime at Christmas and to the market.”

A Minister to tackle loneliness seemed strange to some: loneliness is such a private, personal problem; how could a government department help?

The Minister has committed to adopting the Jo Cox Commission’s recommendations, building on the work of the Campaign to End Loneliness, the Red Cross and others. These include a national strategy, new ways to measure loneliness and the impact of interventions upon it, and an innovation fund.

But it is true that while befriending schemes can alleviate loneliness, there can be no service to cure it: only friends can do that.

This makes loneliness a test case for the biggest challenges facing the NHS, social care and other public services. While our services have never been better at fixing what is fixable, what millions of us now need from them is not to be fixed, but to be able to live well with long term challenges which are as much social as medical.

The World Health Organisation, Marmot and others made the case for the social determinants of health to be tackled nearly 15 years ago, but as budgets stretch, our focus has arguably become more medicalised, large scale and short term, with some local systems seeking to merge or realign big health organisations and systems and hoping to see the results of ‘efficiencies’ in hospital usage and discharge statistics as soon as possible.

Certainly the NHS’s challenges have never been more urgent or bigger in scale, but whilst the large injection of cash which many are arguing for would surely alleviate many immediate problems in the system, loneliness, unhealthy lifestyles, and deep societal inequalities such as the Inverse Care Law, would remain and in fact, may be growing.

The challenge for the Minister and the rest of government then, is to find the space and time to nurture approaches like Homeshare which are small-scale today, but which may be the beginnings of the changes in relationships and ways of living which both people and the service systems they rely upon may need to become the norm in the rapidly approaching future.

New speaker: Simon Stevens

I’m delighted (and a little daunted) to announce that Simon Stevens is to speak at the launch of my book, A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum. The registration details are above and here. We have also now opened registration for the Northern launch event at Manchester Metropolitan University with Jon Rouse (Greater Manchester Chief Officer), former shadow Care Minister, Liz Kendall MP and Prof Sue Baines. Simon says of the book,

This is a profound and timely call for a different relationship between people and the services and institutions of the welfare state. It’s a radical and necessary call to arms for a more human, personal and connected society.

Can we escape the invisible asylum?

Since their origins in the Poor Laws, our ideas about helping people have been tangled up with feelings about excluding or punishing them. To become the subject of state support was once to cross a physical threshold: the gates of the workhouse, lunatic asylum or long-stay ‘hospital’ for disabled people. Many of those thresholds have disappeared into folk-memory, but the idea of separating people into those who are citizens of their communities, and those who are wards of the state, remains threaded through our health, care and support services, in ways which have become so familiar they are invisible.

The rules and assumptions of the invisible asylum can be felt in ‘community’ services which feel nothing like community. They start with assessments and means tests which challenge people to prove their level of need, often at the cost of believing in their independence. They are felt in approaches that treat families who have managed on their own for years, as though they are capable only of being ‘difficult’ for the very services which ignored them before they reached crisis point.

This is not to decry the value of our underfunded and undervalued public services. But for our welfare state to survive, we need to be able to see it clearly: the miracles our services can achieve in the operating theatre and their small, devastating failures to see the person underneath the patient’s gown. There was a time when most of us could ignore those failures, hoping that we wouldn’t find ourselves in need of state support, or would need it only for a brief period which we prefer not to think about. But now we live longer lives, with longer periods of ill health, frailty or social isolation. Whether those years – and in many cases decades – in which we need state support will amount to a good life is not solely in the gift of GPs, surgeons or social workers. It depends for most of us on the relationships we have with everyone we rely on: our family and friends, alongside people paid to help us.

So we need models of community support which focus as much on ‘community’ as ‘support’. Working for nearly eight years with the remarkable people involved in Shared Lives and Homeshare has brought into perspective for me the inability of many services to escape the asylums of their origins. I have also witnessed supportive relationships which do not sacrifice the social for the care, which recognise interdependence is as important as independence, and that caring is an emotion before it is an activity.

In my forthcoming book, A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum (Policy Press, February 2018) I outline a possible health and care system which would take the ethos and practices of asset-based and community-orientated support models and build a system and a sustainable economics around them. A system which would demand, measure and pay for the goals – wellbeing, resilience, confident households – we all agree we want, but seem to accept we cannot have. The people who currently shape services have proved themselves incapable of designing approaches to achieve those more human goals. They can only be co-designed with the people who make long term use of services, their families and workers. They would offer us more but would only work if we were prepared to have more asked of us in return.

Those services would be organised at a more personal scale, perhaps eventually eschewing the traditional idea of an organisation entirely, so the book focuses as much on what needs scaling down to human size, as on scaling up the innovations of which we need more. It starts with those failures we should see as inexcusable, yet ignore or dismiss, but it is rooted in the belief that we can and do care for each other, and that the only future for our public services is to create spaces in which people with support needs, families and front line workers can have the relationships we would all wish to have.

You can order A new health and care system: escaping the invisible asylum from the Policy Press. To register to attend the launch at Nesta on 28 Feb, which has done so much to support our work, click here. The Northern launch event with Greater Manchester’s Chief Officer Jon Rouse is at MetroPolis on 20th March.