Gaye, Linda and Tina

Gaye, Linda, Tina and household are featured on BBC1 South’s Inside Out programme today (Monday 11th) 7.30pm. There is an excerpt here:

Plenty of life, love and laughter: enjoy!


The Asset Based Area 2017

This new Think Local, Act Personal resource started as a blog post here. Thanks to the TLAP team and its Building Community Capacity network, along with inspiration from local areas such as Wigan (see the Wigan Deal link below), it has now become a how-to guide giving ten pointers towards becoming an Asset-Based Area. Here is my blog for the Dept Health social care blog on the paper:

A GP noticed that one of his older patient’s appointments were increasing, and felt that this was not for medical reasons, but due to her isolation which had worsened following a bus service closure. He linked the lady to her Local Area Coordinator (LAC).

The coordinator helped her to build more links and activities in the community to reduce her isolation and to approach a community organisation which ran a community bus service. Her increased support networks meant she felt less reliant on her GP.

They were also felt to be key to her quick return home from hospital after a heart attack.

The LAC helped link the community organisation to colleagues who gave support for a successful bid for a new community bus service.

At a time when primary care services are feeling under huge pressure, it can be hard to argue for new approaches and creative thinking. But this story shows that, with the right help and a positive mindset, someone possibly viewed as a ‘problem’ can not only find ways to help themselves, but their new connections can also lead to benefits for the whole community.

LAC is an example of an asset-based approach, which, like all similar approaches, starts with questions like, “What does a good life look like to you?” and “What can we do together to pursue it?” Coordinators have the time and remit to get to know people: not just what they need, but also the goals and capabilities they and those around them can bring.

Sometimes this means that someone accessing a service will need less formal support.  However, asset-based thinking shouldn’t be limited to ‘informal’ or voluntary organisations. Nor should it be seen as only relevant to preventative services. It needs to be embedded across the whole system, including in approaches to supporting people with significant health, care or other needs.

Shared Lives carers, having been through rigorous approval processes to join local CQC-regulated schemes, are matched with adults needing support, such as people with learning disabilities, mental ill health or dementia.

This is not a referral process: matching means both parties getting to know each other and making a positive choice to share their lives. The adult either moves in with their Shared Lives carer or visits them regularly for short breaks or day support.

James has significant learning disabilities and mental ill health. He has spent significant periods in institutional care and still needs some hospital stays, but his life with his Shared Lives carer Phil revolves not around the times when he is most unwell, but around the day-to-day things he and Phil both enjoy doing such as fishing and going to the greyhound races.

The Asset-Based Area was coproduced with input from many people and organisations working in asset-based ways, from the Think Local Act Personal national network for practitioners and commissioners who share an interested in Building Community Capacity.

We wrote it because we cannot successfully or affordably add in asset based approaches around the margins, whilst ‘core business’ remains unchanged. We need whole areas to take up the challenge of becoming asset-based, resetting their relationships with local citizens, as Wigan council and a few others attempted. It is time for steady, incremental, whole-place change: it’s all or nothing.

Merry Christmas!

I’m very grateful for this great guest blog from Sarah.

Sarah, who lives in Yorkshire, is a poet,a spoken word entertainer, inspirational speaker and drama-based trainer in the (sometimes tricky) subject of Dementia. She is also a qualified life coach but prefers the term “useful chat” to “coaching”. She cares for her own disabled son full time, is a Grandma to three (soon to be four) rowdy children, is addicted to Coronation Street and is totally dependent on a well maintained diary and her never ending To Do list.

Sarah lives in Yorkshire and has been providing short breaks through Shared Lives for a year. She knows what a fantastic service this can be because her own son has used Shared Lives for his own short breaks in the past. Sarah writes:

Christmas seems to be a bit like a popular yeast extract spread; loved or loathed.

Just mention the C word to anyone and it’s almost guaranteed to receive one of two responses. Either “Oh it’s too early”, “can’t afford it”, “hate bloody Christmas” and other negative (almost visceral) reactions or the opposite response of the starry eyed, wistful “Oh I LOVE Christmas”, “I can’t wait”, “such a wonderful time of year”.

However we feel about it, we will navigate life a lot more easily when we accept that others opinions do not always match our own.

I have had to learn to love Christmas, my son loves it so life is easier if I do too. When I say he loves it, I mean he REALLY loves it. He has a Santa duvet cover, He has snowmen in his bedroom, he listens to Christmas music on repeat twenty four hours a day, we keep a countdown to Christmas poster in the kitchen. You may be thrilled (or horrified) to know that we have a mere one hundred and thirty sleeps to wait until we can open our presents and set fire to that pudding.

One of our Shared lives links was a match made in heaven for us. We have a Shared Lives visitor who loves Christmas. He brought his own festive bedding with him (there was no need we had plenty!). He plays Santa Claus is coming to town on repeat (genuinely not annoying where the entire family has become completely immune to living in a Bing Crosby background noise environment).

On one particular visit he took it upon himself to take all the decorations out of their storage and put them up. It was June. We had a tree up. He did a sterling job too: Every bauble, fairy light, Christmas wind up musical item, bunting, holly, mistletoe, ornaments. all displayed with expert care, ready to surprise me with.

Deciding to adopt a “if you can’t beat them- join them” attitude, I joined in and so did my son. We all donned a Santa hat and got stuck in, tweaking the lights, adding the tinsel, singing carols, talking about what we hoped Christmas would bring us all this year. We talked and listened and laughed and at one point I sat back and just stopped to enjoy the moment, to commit it to memory, to drink in the fun and the pure joy. I am not embarrassed to admit feeling a little emotional- I suppose Christmas is a nostalgic time of year.

Neither of these young men were glued to their iPads, neither was sitting in their head phones drowning out human communication, they were both engaged, connected, happy and relaxed.

Later that night I was trying to navigate the darkness of my bedroom as my early-rising husband had gone to sleep ages before me. As I fumbled around the end of the bed trying to locate my Pyjamas, I felt something unfamiliar. made of fabric, with beads/ buttons on. I managed to find the torch on my mobile- there in the beam I see that our guest had really had done a thorough job: it was a Christmas stocking hanging on the end of my bed.

This is just one of the many aspects I love about Shared Lives. We have the freedom to connect with people in a way which truly makes sense to them, on this occasion, it made sense to us too. Our customers have the freedom to not only be at the heart of what we do but to actually lead the way we do it.

I have often heard Shared Lives carers talk about how much they learn through their roles and I second that with a great big “YAY” as I raise my glass of sherry and ( whether you love it or loathe it) wish you all a very merry Christmas.


My colleague Babs Lewis, who leads our work in Wales, writes:

Vernon, who will soon be celebrating his 73rd birthday, lives an active life in the community with support from Margaret and her partner Eddie, with whom he’s lived for 16 years. He works in his local supermarket for a few hours a week, and gets out and about regularly thanks to his free bus pass. Vernon was taken into care aged just two and was looked after by Nuns in Swansea until the late 1990s, when he moved to a residential home. The move didn’t suit him at all and he didn’t thrive there, so Swansea social services suggested Shared Lives.

Vernon met Welsh Assembly Shadow Social Service Spokesperson, Suzy Davies, over coffee and told her all about Shared Lives and what the service meant to him. They also shared reminiscences of their shared home town and talked about all the changes they’ve seen over the years in Swansea.

Margaret along with her partner Eddie have been Shared Lives carers for around 18 years now, supporting Vernon since 2001.  Margaret had worked as an Auxiliary Nurse before moving to Swansea and becoming a Shared Lives carer.  Along with Vernon, she’s also provided long-term support and short-breaks to other people who need just a little help to stay independent and active. The visit was organised as part of Wales Shared Lives Development Team’s work connecting Shared Lives carers and the people they support to local politicians. The aim is to make sure politicians see first-hand the great work Shared Lives is doing in their constituency.

Let’s get started

The government’s care inspectors, the Care Quality Commission, have just published their three year report on social care, having now inspected all care services in England under their new regime. They found that whilst three quarters of care services are good or outstanding, a fifth of all services need to improve and that rises to a third of nursing homes, which care for people who have the most complex needs. There has been a lot of focus on the role that funding cuts play in this, which is undoubtedly significant: commissioners in some areas are trying to pay so little to their care providers that it is hard to see how those providers could even meet their legal duties such as minimum wage. There needs to be more money put back into the system to avoid catastrophe and the government needs to stop diverting any new social care money into a focus on saving acute hospitals, as has just happened with the Better Care Fund.

But there are other lessons to learn. In this report as in all recent ones, CQC has found that smaller services are more likely to be good than bigger ones. People want to live in somewhere that feels like home, but huge care homes are still being built and registered for older people, and ‘units’ of ten or more beds are still be developed for younger disabled adults.

Staff turnover in social care is over a quarter a year and rising. The model of recruit quickly and cheaply hides huge re-recruitment costs and must contribute to the failings that the inspectors find.

Shared Lives is an approach in which Shared Lives carers are recruited slowly: a three to six month approval process. Shared Lives feels small and homely because it only takes place in the Shared Lives carer’s family home, and the surrounding community. So it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that CQC once again find that Shared Lives outperforms all other forms of care. Shared Lives carers are trained and paid, and the scheme which recruits, matches and supports them also costs money, but this model is not more expensive: it is consistently significantly lower cost.

Shared Lives is not perfect everywhere. It is coming under increasing pressure from commissioners desperate for even greater savings, who don’t understand that the time and care taken in setting up and supporting Shared Lives is crucial to its safety and success, and also the reason it costs less overall. Some Shared Lives carers are being put at risk of burn out as they are expected to care 24/7, again with risks to people’s wellbeing and ultimately much higher costs. But the lessons from this model are clear: invest time and money in the conditions for success, not managing failure. Focus first and foremost on a good life if you want good services. Ensure rules and regulations are there, but in the background when they’re needed, not the whole focus of everyone’s time and energy. Think small and personal, not big and cheap. 

The government is about to consult on social care. This cannot just be a discussion about what social care costs and how to pay for it. It has to be a discussion with what that money is spent on, starting with the ambition to offer Shared Lives to everyone who want it. Almost every area now has a local Shared Lives organisation to build on. Let’s get started.

Turning on the light

We’re very grateful to Leanne, who has written this moving and powerful account of her Shared Lives journey with the Blackpool Shared Lives scheme. Thanks Leanne!

Leanne writes:

When I was asked to do this for Shared lives week it took me a while to write, not because I didn’t want to write it, mostly because I didn’t know what to say. What do you say about the service, the shared lives carers who helped you to grow into the person you could only dream about four and a half years ago?

Anyone that knows me, will know that one of my favourite hobbies is to write stories and tell stories to anyone who will listen, so if you don’t mind, I would like to tell you one now…

It all began many years ago when I was 10 years old, I had this dream of becoming a social worker and despite my disabilities I worked as hard as I could (and sometimes not at all) throughout school and college in the hope of one day achieving my dream. –How is this all relevant you ask? Let me tell you…

In the January of 2012, I was diagnosed with a rare medical condition on top of my already complicated disabilities. The condition took over my life and put a stop to my dream. Not only did I now have a medical condition, which I couldn’t control, I had increasing mental health issues. I don’t mind sharing, suicidal thoughts were becoming like an old friend of mine. My condition and my mental health state was putting enormous pressure on the relationships I had with my family. In the January of 2013, I found out just how much. I was admitted to hospital for what was supposed to be routine treatment, a few days later I was visited by a social worker who explained to me that due to a breakdown in the relationships between myself and my family, I was now homeless.

It took a lot of discussion between the social worker and I but I brought up the option of Shared Lives as I had heard about the support it offered to adults with additional needs.  Me being who I am, I was a little reluctant to become a part of the scheme as “I don’t need help” how wrong I was. In hindsight, I can truly say I didn’t realise how much help I needed until I’d had it.

On the 23rd of January 2013 I met Josephine, I can remember like it was yesterday, I was sat in my hospital bed trying to concentrate on what was being asked but all I could think was how this woman with the kindest smile and it seemed even kinder heart had made me feel the most human I’d felt in a long time. I was so distracted by this, I agreed to not liking cucumber… 4 years later and both Josephine and Paul, Josephine’s husband,  still believe I don’t like cucumber, when really I do.

Anyway on the 24th,  I moved into the place I was only supposed to be staying “a few weeks.” A couple of months past and I’d found myself fitting in with Josephine and Paul’s lifestyle, even joining Blackpool Bears with the help of Josephine, but this wasn’t my greatest achievement. My greatest achievement in that first few months was the smallest of all things… getting on a bus. By myself. It sounds ridiculous, a what was 20 year old that had never been on a bus on her own before, but it was true. My mental health state was the biggest issue, my anxiety stopped me from doing almost everything, making me fear I was going to get something wrong, get lost or worst die. So that day when Josephine told me she was going to drop me off at my appointment and I would have to make my way back by bus myself I feared everything. Literally dreading the end of my appointment even though she had told me the exact route to use. To cut a long story short, I did it. I got on the bus and I got off at the right stop. Although it was a very small thing, I felt like I had achieved a lot. Yes the whole plan seems a little unorthodox to some people but Josephine knew that was the kind of approach that I needed and what a fantastic approach that was. I now spend half of my time on and off buses, and the other half it seems waiting for them….

Anyway that wasn’t the only breakthrough I’d had in the few months after I’d moved in Continue reading