Grantham Journal special report: There’s no place like a Shared Lives home

Attendees, staff and volunteers at Spriteleys.
Attendees, staff and volunteers at Spriteleys.
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After hearing about Adult Supporting Adults’ success in arranging long-term homes for vulnerable adults, reporters Judith Hawkins and Daniel Sutherland found out more about all the work they do in the area

For the past 25 years, Adults Supporting Adults (ASA) has been helping change the lives of vulnerable adults across Lincolnshire, with many of their services provided right here in Grantham.

Client Dougie Pugh with his daytime care provider Gina Clark.

Client Dougie Pugh with his daytime care provider Gina Clark.

The not-for-profit organisation currently supports around 300 people in the county, including those with learning and physical disabilities, mental illness, and dementia.

While many may be aware of the regular social groups they organise in the form of Spriteleys, less known is the work they do placing vulnerable adults with families, either as a respite or, in some cases, on a much longer term basis.

The service, known as Shared Lives, sees ASA find new homes for over-18s who for personal or health reasons are not able to live with their own family. However, these are not homes in the sense of residential nursing homes, but instead those of families who allow an ASA client to move in with them.

One couple who have done just that are Grantham residents Julian and Sandra Clare. They are proof that the scheme can provide a long-term home, as their client has lived with them since 1997, and has truly become part of their family.

“We came across Shared Lives by accident really as our neighbours had a gentleman living with them, and we were intrigued as to how this came to be,” remembers Sandra.

“We thought the concept of supporting someone in your own home rather than that person going into residential care was marvellous, so we explored the process further and became providers ourselves.”

Potential providers are carefully assessed, and receive regular supervision and an allowance. “The support from the ASA staff team was exceptional and they reassured us that we had the right match for our family environment,” adds Sandra. “And you have to say they were right, because here we still are after all this time.”

It is one of 10,000 such arrangements across the country, and with cuts to social care funding the need for these placements is only increasing. Last year saw a further 900 arrangements nationally, and with an average annual saving of £26,000 in care costs, it also makes sense financially. More importantly it can avoid the disruption to a person’s life which comes with moving between nursing homes or hospitals. “They are more likely to stay with a family longer than they would at a residential home,” explains Dean Barnshaw, ASA’s operations manager. “It’s much more than just having a room at the end of a corridor – it can be a home for life.”

He added: “We sometimes wonder, what is it that we do to support our client, as he is so much part of the family. But then you realise, that without Shared Lives, he could have spent the last 16 years in hospital instead of at home with us.”

Of course they acknowledge that being a Shared Lives provider is a big commitment. The couple remember their own initial reservations, but these have been superseded by the numerous benefits. “We had a young family at the time and did wonder if we could make such a commitment, but the training and the discussions we had during the assessment confirmed we were making the right decision.

“We know how privileged we are to have been given the opportunity to look after someone in our home; it really is fun and challenging at the same time. We and the children, who have now grown up and gone on to have their own families, have benefitted so much, as over the years we have all learned more about mental illness.

“It’s also helped break down the stereotypical views our friends, family and neighbours may have had in the past and they can now see the person for who they really are rather than focusing on a disability.”

While they are welcomed into a new family, the client also does not lose that link to their own, as ASA looks to place them with Shared Lives providers who live in the same area, aware that unfamiliar surroundings can just set them back even more. To be able to do this for their growing number of clients though, they need to find as many providers as possible.

“It’s so rewarding to encourage someone to engage in everyday life and enjoy being part of the community,” says Sandra. “I would urge anyone to pick up the phone and find out more about becoming a Shared Lives provider.”

To get involved with Shared Lives, and to find out more about ASA’s other services, like Spriteleys and daytime provision (see below), call 01529 416270 or visit www.asaorg.co.uk

* Spriteleys

One of the key services ASA provides in and around Grantham is Spriteleys, a social group for the elderly which includes lunch, refreshments and a variety of activities led by attendees’ suggestions, ranging from crafts, bingo and bowls, to painting, flower arranging, and even guest speakers.

Through the group’s Wednesday session, from 10.30am to 3pm at Central Place, 89-year-old Roy Clouting has met Evelyn Sellars, 90, who now also see each other regularly for a meal in town and have met each other’s families. Following the death of his wife Lilian in 2008, Roy moved to Grantham and started attending Spriteleys. He hit it off with Evelyn straight away when they first met at the group four years ago. “It’s nice to get out and meet new people,” said Roy. He particularly enjoys the regular quizzes at the group, adding: “It exercises the mind.”

Allan Jones, 82, adds: “If I was not coming here now, I’d just be sat in the house watching TV, because I can’t walk very far. It gets me out of the house.” ASA also provides transport to and from the group venues, so any physical impairments are not an obstacle to attending, while their volunteers and staff are also trained to assist if needed.

Among them is community support co-ordinator Troy Melvin, who finds he gets as much from the sessions as the attendees themselves. “It’s the best job I have ever done. If you think about it, each one of them has a lifetime of experience, and all those experiences to talk about.” Spiteleys sessions also take place at Witham Place and Great Ponton Community Centre.

* Daytime provision

For those not needing a residential arrangement, but still requiring support, ASA’s daytime provision sees experienced carers regularly meet up with clients on a one-to-one basis.

Before he met his ASA daytime provider Gina Clark, 62-year-old schizophrenic Dougie Pugh would rarely venture out of his house. Keen for people to understand his condition, he says: “I have never hurt anybody, the only person I have ever hurt is myself. That’s why I’m happy to have this. It gives me more confidence. I look forward to Gina coming round. We have a real relationship.”

With over 20 years’ experience in the care sector, Gina says she gets real job satisfaction making a difference to the lives of clients like Dougie. She explains: “We go out for a meal twice a month, and I support him in getting to appointments, answering correspondence, managing bills, with shopping and cooking. He’s a really good cook now!”

Dean Barnshaw, ASA’s operations manager, adds: “It’s not the traditional idea of a carer who makes sure someone’s washed, it’s about making sure they get involved with and feel part of the community.”

It has clearly worked for Dougie, who now goes out regularly, speaks to neighbours, and has friends who he, in turn, is helping with advice.

Call 01529 416270 or visit www.asaorg.co.uk