"It’s a sense of making things better for people,” says Stuart Graham.
The 48-year-old from Queensbury is one of a number of families within the Bradford district who offer their homes to adults with a range of issues including learning disabilities, dementia and mental health issues through the Shared Lives service.
Launched in Keighley in the 1970s and now based in Cottingley, the service is delivered by a dedicated team, part of Bradford Council’s Adult and Community Services, which help provide a home-from-home whether it be to offer temporary respite for the individual’s family or a permanent stay.
There are currently 130 adults benefiting from the support of 100 Shared Lives families who, by providing temporary care for a night, weekend or a longer period, are enabling the families of the people they care for to have some respite.
Stuart and Fiona aren’t the only family to become full-time carers. There are currently 36 adults with learning disabilities living full-time with their Shared Lives families.
The couple became involved in the scheme after Fiona looked after a teenager with cerebral palsy. “There were a few other people she used to sit for and when we got married we looked into doing short breaks on respite,” says Stuart.
The couple now look after several people on a part-time basis and have taken on the full-time care of a 51-year-old man with Down’s Syndrome.
Stuart says their caring role gives them a sense of achievement through helping others, and they say the service is invaluable.
“It is absolutely fantastic and I think the scheme itself is not recognised enough. Nationally I know there are different schemes in different parts of the country, but Bradford is a bit of a pioneer. The service that people can provide for these people is more personal,” he explains.
Nancy Plowes, Shared Lives team manager, explains how each family has to be assessed before becoming a Shared Lives family. They try, where possible, to match individuals with families having shared interests.
In recent months the organisation is also starting to work with people in the early stages of dementia. Nancy says that people are increasingly being diagnosed in their early 50s so they are hoping to match them with Shared Lives families – the idea being to build on familiarity so the individual feels as though they are staying with friends rather than in a care environment.
Nancy says it is a more flexible arrangement which can fit around the family and the individual. “It could be one or two nights, a week or ad hoc,” she explains.
Shared Lives is also looking at providing provision for people with mental health issues, such as depression. “It is enabling them to have an ordinary life, to be in the community doing ordinary things like going to a football match or the caravan on a weekend, being part of an ordinary family life,” says Nancy.
She adds the service brings great benefits to both the carers and the individuals and their families. “The people who become Shared Lives carers say what they get out of it is feeling they are doing a good job; they are making a big difference and they like the people they are working with.”
Nancy says becoming a Shared Lives carer particularly appeals to those who have worked in a care environment because they have experienced the satisfaction of helping others and want to expand that, but even without this experienece people can fulfil the role.
Equally, the service also brings benefits to the families whose loved one is looked after by Shared Lives families. Nancy says they have the confidence that their family member is going to people who know them, it is something they look forward to and enjoy their stay.
However, services such as Shared Lives rely on families taking on the role. “It is vital we get a good range.” says Nancy. “We need to have a big pool of people so that when we get referrals we can match the right person in the right part of Bradford or Airedale. We need people from various ethnic backgrounds, who can speak different languages.”
Nancy is also keen to hear from younger families to help provide the service. “It is vital in that it provides a very specific, personalised service. We match them up with someone they will really get on with. It has the flexibility, and the quality, which is the crucial bit,” she adds.
For more information, call (01274) 432211.