What is a home? A place where you feel safe and cared for, where you can be yourself and be with your family? Is this a private, personal only space or could you invite strangers into your home to live? Strangers who might be challenging because of physical or learning disabilities, sensory impairments or dementia?
Within the Leeds Shared Lives service, people open their homes to such strangers and share their lives, families, interests, experience and skills with people who need some help and support to live their lives to the full. It is a unique sort of social care; it is small scale and very personalised, and focuses on what the individual wants and needs in a normal family home and as a full and participating member of that family.
A careful matching-up process takes place between the carer and the person needing the care so everyone can benefit from a unity of support that is often only found within families. It’s an extraordinary scheme supported by extraordinary people; people just like Mary Crawford.
Family was so important to Mary Crawford that she wanted others to experience the same love and support that she did. Mary came from a family of seven and although she had her own family of five to look after, she wanted to help other people to experience what a homely family life felt like. So drawing on her experience as a nurse at Meanwood Park hospital, Mary started working for the Children’s Family Placement Scheme and then the Adult Social Care’s Shared Lives scheme.
It wasn’t only Mary who got involved, the rest of the family did too! Her children Bridget, David, and Joan remember vividly those who stayed with them. To them the experience added to what being a family meant. Their family included each other, whoever was stopping with them at the time and even the chickens and a goat! They had regular weekend visitors and some who stayed for months and even years and many of them are still in touch to this day.
Bridget said: “Mum had plenty of love in her heart to go round – there was no limit; there was enough for us and anyone staying with us.”
Caring is still a family affair in Mary’s family as between them they do various roles as social workers and care workers.
Mary welcomed people into her family for 23 amazing years and this week she finally retired. Shared Lives carers and staff came together to celebrate Mary and her family’s achievements and share fond memories and laughter.
Presenting Mary with a special bouquet of flowers, Helen, her social worker said: “Mary had the skill of knowing how to make people feel relaxed and at home.”
One of Mary’s most recent weekend visitors was Carl, a 47 year old with learning difficulties who sent a thank-you present with his regular carer Pat. Pat, who is also full-time carer for her elderly mother, said that Mary provided extra support and Carl always enjoyed staying with her.
Mary said “I’ve really enjoyed it. Thanks to the carers who trusted me with their families; the social workers and staff for all their help.”
Also saying goodbye was Mary’s social worker, Helen Statham, who retires after nearly 30 years, to look after her family and retrain as a life coach. Helen will be fondly missed by everyone who worked with her and by those she helped care for.
To find out more about how you could get involved with the Shared Lives scheme look at http://www.leeds.gov.uk/residents/Pages/Leeds-Shared-Lives.aspx