Christine Lyons cared for Elspeth and Jane for more than two decades. The pair have learning disabilities and lived with Christine and her husband Joe in their home in Ealing as part of a little-known scheme which has a big impact on people’s lives.
Christine, who is a qualified psychiatric nurse, was the very first carer taken on by Ealing Shared Lives when it was started by the council in 1993.
The scheme places adults who have additional needs with local families – either to live with them or to spend some regular time together.
It can be a full-time arrangement as an alternative to living in a care home. Or carers can help by providing respite care – giving other families a break, whether for a weekend, a day, or even a few hours.
‘Nice to be able to help someone’
Joe said: “The Christmas beforehand we had seen the Red Cross helping some people. We said to each other, ‘we have a spare room upstairs, it would be nice to be able to help someone’. And, just two weeks later in the January we saw an advert for Shared Lives, or Space as it was called then.”
Firstly, Jane moved in; and then, within a year, her friend Elspeth needed a home too – and so she came to live with Christine and Joe, too.
“Everything seemed to be fate,” added Christine.
It quickly became a close unit, with everyone getting on brilliantly.
Joe said: “They lived with us as a family.”
Christine agreed and said: “We all gelled together, and we enhanced their lives and broadened their outlook. We sent them on holiday five times a year and gave them a lot of experiences they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had. We signed them up to everything and anything they could do.”
At this point, Elspeth said: “They’ve looked after us so well.” And Jane added: “I was saying the other day how good they have been to us.”
‘It is a good and rewarding thing to do’
Recently, Elspeth and Jane moved out together to live in a supported-living home in Greenford – prompting Christine and Joe to look back on a happy experience of sharing more than 25 years of their lives with them.
“There was a huge sense of reward and satisfaction in giving them a quality of life in a family setting, rather than in an institution” said Christine. “And we always had support from Ealing Shared Lives – they were always there for us.
“There is training and there are regulations, but these are terribly important for everyone involved. You need to be refreshed about the latest guidelines and to have rules, especially when you are caring for people who are vulnerable or have learning difficulties.”
‘It all worked out wonderfully’
Joe added: “I’ve learned so much, too. People misunderstand people with learning difficulties, but they are so wonderful. And I think our excitement and enjoyment of it all comes across in our voices when we tell people about it.”
“Yes,” agreed Christine. “We have no regrets whatsoever. The way I’ve looked at it is that we have had two ladies to look after and it has been a pleasure. I always promote it to others. It is a good and rewarding thing to do. It is challenging at times, of course, but you get great satisfaction when you see someone grow and flourish.”
So, why quit now?
“Now is the right time,” explained Christine. “Elspeth and Jane are more confident, we are getting older; and everything else all fell into place perfectly – the right place became available. It is perfect for them – in the right location and where they could remain together, which was essential; and our neighbour left us lots of very good furniture that they could take with them, too. It all worked out wonderfully.”
Joe added: “I’ve said it is as if you have picked up the rooms they lived in here and placed them somewhere else. And they have everything they need on-hand there, everything in the area is familiar and they know everyone.”
Christine said: “We are always at the end of the phone and we keep in touch and will pop in to see them. It is hard to just pack up and say goodbye – you can’t.”
Could you share your life?
Ealing Shared Lives is looking to recruit more carers. You would be paid and receive training and support, as well as holidays. Visit www.ealing.gov.uk/sharedlives or call 020 8825 5029 or email firstname.lastname@example.org