“If you think you can help to make a difference to someone’s life, and have your own life changed in the process, I would encourage you to consider becoming a Shared Lives carer.”
That’s the message from a Nottinghamshire woman who supports an adult with learning difficulties in her home.
Julie Lenehan, 65, from Retford, decided to become a Shared Lives carer after her own family had grown up and moved out. At the time, she was working in a residential home with long hours, shift work and abundant workplace politics. She still felt she had a lot left to give. That was four years ago.
Julie is one of 63 Shared Lives households in the county, which offer long-term accommodation and support or short breaks for older people, people with a physical or learning disability, or individuals with mental health needs.
The county council is looking for additional households that have room in their homes and carers who are willing to support someone living with them as part of their family.
All carers receive training and ongoing support and are paid at different rates to reflect the level of support needed.
Shared Lives households can also offer shorts breaks to allow full-time carers to have a holiday or time away from their caring duties.
People who have support from a Shared Lives carer can gain greater independence and become part of the community through the scheme.
Julie cares for Jo, 38, providing practical support which includes help with medication, day-to-day tasks and self-care.
Julie is also there for Jo as a friend - providing company while watching hours of soaps on TV, going to Zumba or swimming and meeting up with friends. They also go on trips away a few times a year.
Recently, they went to Fuerteventura - Jo's first ever foreign holiday - which Julie says was eye-opening and very enjoyable for both of them.
In addition, Julie is part of the Shared Lives community, and takes part in frequent training to improve her skills and connect with other Shared Lives carers through the carer events and group meetings arranged by the Shared Lives team throughout the year.
Julie worked in social care for many years, caring for a range of people from young children to the elderly. This means that she developed a lot of experience caring for people with complex physical and mental health needs.
However, Julie doesn’t think that you need a specific experience to be a Shared Lives carer.
She said: “The most important thing is that you are passionate, caring and seek to improve people's lives. Experience of caring for people - for example bringing up children - would, however, be an advantage.”
Jo has Down's Syndrome and has lived with Julie for two years now. Julie describes Jo as bubbly and full of life - enjoying most things that are offered to her. She loves dancing, attending local clubs in the community, theatre shows and avidly follows popstars such as Sam Smith and her favourite soap operas.
Julie added: “Jo helps me to step out of my own comfort zone. We do all kinds of activities together. Jo is the favourite VIP customer of our local coffee shop and we visit as much as we can. Jo goes to the day centre three times a week and volunteers in a charity shop once a week. #
"However, during our time together we are very active and go swimming, walking and attend the local church, amongst many other activities.”
Jo likes living with Julie – and has her own room to play music. She likes walking Jimmy the dog and stroking the cat. She also likes being busy with swimming lessons and volunteering at Barnado’s, while she gets to go to the market at the weekend to buy a purse or a ring! All in all, she thinks it’s a great deal of fun!
Coun Tony Harper, Adult Social Care and Public Health Committee Chairman said: "This is a great scheme that enables people to enjoy greater independence and be a part of their local community through living with a Shared Lives carer in a real home environment. We work closely with our Shared Lives carers and the people who need support to make sure there is a good match. We are looking for people who have some spare time, a spare room if they are planning to offer overnight stays and a caring nature.
"The arrangements can range from a couple of weekends a year to offering a longer term home. We're always keen to hear from potential new Shared Lives carers."
Anyone who is interested in becoming a Shared Lives carer can visit www.nottinghamshire.gov.uk/sharedlives, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 0300 500 8080.