Shared Lives is an alternative to traditional residential respite and day services for people in need of support. The scheme offers personalised, quality care where carers share their lives and their homes with those they support.
The Leeds Shared Lives scheme helps family carers who take on the often emotionally and physically demanding care of a loved one by enabling them to have a break. They do this by providing day support and short breaks to service users. Shared Lives carers support adults with a wide range of care needs such as older people, adults with dementia or learning, physical or sensory difficulties.
Indi Matharu, Principal Service Manager, Leeds Shared Lives talks to Mary who has been a carer with the Shared lives Scheme for 37 years.
Mary has provided short breaks since the scheme first started. At that time it was known as Family Placement and the scheme provided support to both children’s and adults. The scheme later became an adults placement scheme and some years later was re-branded as Shared Lives.
Mary is currently supporting Jo.
How long have you been a shared lives carer?
M Since 1978 – the year after the scheme started
What encouraged you to get involved?
M Personal reasons resulted in me looking at options available to care for others and as a scheme Shared Lives interested me.
Did you have another occupation when you started with the scheme?
M: No, I retired from the Post Office, just short-term.
Do your family get involved then with the sharers?
M: Yes, well early on my two daughters were really involved, they were very good. And my son.
And as things evolved your husband Eddie has become more of a key support?
M: Yes, he’s around.
So, over the years, how many people do you think, you’ve supported?
M: Probably about 18. But I had people who stayed for quite a few years
And Jo’s been with you for?
M: 22 years. Doesn’t seem that long.
And is that because it’s a really good relationship that you’ve got together?
M: Jo doesn’t say a lot, but you know when she’s happy and when she’s not.
How would you describe Shared Lives?
M: For me it was more the relationship you got between you and the parents. There was a social worker and I felt I could ring them if there was a problem. But it was with the parent really. That’s why I wanted to do it because I thought what a great scheme it is. And I was friendly with all the Mums.
So it wasn’t just about the person you were matched with, it was the relationship you had with their wider family and carers?
M: Oh yes, a few of the children also went to the playgroup that Eddie organised. Two weeks in the summer every day and I got involved with that as well because of the children.
So how does Shared Lives support people? Is it an alternative respite to the traditional home, how does Shared Lives help those?
M: I’m sure it helps the parents an awful lot because they feel that the children or adults are going to friends. They don’t feel that they are going into a home.
Has Shared Lives provided benefit for yourself as well?
M: I think so, you see people in a different light, the Mums and Dads. I always say if anyone dares to criticise Mum and Dad for the way they’re dealing with their child just go and have them for a week and then criticise them if you dare. I really think that because nobody understands until you actually take them into the home.
Would you encourage other people to become Shared Lives carers?
M: I would. Although you’d have to do it for love not for the money. And I think getting used to someone as well you know when they first come it’s like anyone really isn’t it? Weigh them up. It’s worth persevering I think.
What’s been the hardest thing for you as a Shared Lives carer?
M: The hardest thing for me was when I moved up to Hartlepool and had to leave the scheme that really upset me, cos I was friends with the Mums. I loved the kids that was the worst really.
And the most joyous?
M: When you make them laugh, actually, it is. I mean, Jo, we had her in stitches yesterday cos my grand-daughter was acting silly and Jo can be very quiet. Good moments.
I’m sure for yourself it’s bringing them out of their shells.
M: Yes, and knowing that they’re happy and comfortable in your home.
What skills do you think someone needs to become a Shared Lives carer?
M: Just to have an instinct for caring and seeing what the other person needs really and making them feel comfortable and relaxed.
So, a good sense of humour.
M: Yes. My grand-daughter, she’s 8 last week, I taught her to gargle and I said OK gargle a song and she was doing that and that’s what Jo was laughing at.
Anything else you’d like to share?
M: I’ve had some really good relationships with all the parents, I really have been lucky. That’s what makes it worth it while.
Thank you Mary
Can you provide the time, skills and a home environment where you could provide short breaks or day support for adults with a diverse range of care needs?
Shared Lives Carers are extraordinary people who live ordinary lives and come from many different backgrounds. Shared Lives carers are fully assessed and police checked before being approved. They are provided with training and supervised by a scheme worker. If you want to find out more email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0113 378 5410.