'Being a Shared Lives Carer is such a lovely, rewarding thing to do'
Abbie Clayton admits she couldn’t have wished for better teachers to become a Shared Lives Carer.
The HR consultant followed in the footsteps of her parents-in-law Sue and Tim Clayton to devote time to adults in need of practical and emotional support.
Abbie, 40, and husband Sam have been part of Oxfordshire County Council’s Shared Lives scheme for the past ten years.
They offer respite care at the farm near Wallingford where Sue and Tim have provided a home to people in need of adult social care for the past 25 years.
Shared Lives is funded by the county council and part of the council’s commitment to thriving communities – helping people to live safe, healthy lives and play an active part in their community.
“When I first moved here there were some really challenging adults and I saw how Sue and Tim could support them and help them to grow and develop,” Abbie said.
“We decided to get trained ourselves because we could see the great work being done. It’s such a lovely, rewarding thing to do.
“Finding out that we could do it alongside other work and jobs meant that we could do the training and provide respite for when Sue and Tim were away.
“It meant that we could step into their shoes and carry on providing normal family life rather than people having to be sent out to respite all the time.”
‘It has been good to watch and learn from Sue and Tim’
There are currently 80 Shared Lives carers providing a home to about 120 adults in the county. They provide anything from occasional short breaks or daytime support through to a longer-term, full-time arrangement.
Sue and Tim’s dedication to the scheme saw them rewarded at this year’s Oxfordshire Association of Care Providers awards, winning in the Long Term Service category which spans all areas of adult social care.
Abbie explained: “Seeing how Sue and Tim do it, which is really caring but also pushing that independence, has been good to watch and learn.
“The farm is great because it gives people the opportunity to push the boundaries of what they can do themselves.
“Because people tend to come here and stay and enjoy it, and change and develop, it’s amazing to see the journey they’ve been on. It’s like watching a child grow up, effectively, and when you’ve been a big part of that it’s really nice.”
Even when Sue and Tim are about, Abbie and Sam’s bungalow on the 25-acre site is always open to the adults.
“We’re part of a big family environment so we see them all the time. Even if we’re not down to care for them they might pop round for a cup of tea,” Abbie said.
“I’ve got two girls, aged ten and 11, and they very much enjoy spending time with the guys who live here. They will come round and colour and draw and clean the chickens or do something.
“The girls appreciate their differences. We have people with learning difficulties. We have people with autism. They get to understand that and are very supportive of it.”
‘I would highly recommend it’
Abbie said she liked the flexibility of the scheme. Providing respite care meant there was still time for her to work full-time and enjoy hobbies like running and judo.
She has completed four marathons including Paris and London and this September will represent Great Britain in the Masters squad at the Commonwealth Judo Championships in Birmingham.
“I would highly recommend it,” she said. “Have a look at your life and see if you’ve got the capacity because it does take some investment of time and thought to put yourself forward for it.
“Once you’ve made that decision, have a chat with someone in the scheme currently. That’s the way I found out it would be suitable for us.
“You’re provided with all the support and information you need to do a really good job. All of these people are unique, especially in their needs and their desires.
“We’ve had people who are 18 who are just finding themselves in life and people in their 60s who are fairly set in their ways.
“They are definitely part of the family and they bring so much to it. The most rewarding thing is seeing them enjoy their independence. The fact that you can support them to live their lives to the fullest capacity.”
How you can become a Shared Lives Carer
Shared Lives Carers can be single people, single parents, couples who live together, married couples, couples with children or friends sharing accommodation. Age, ethnicity, sexual orientation or disability are not barriers to you becoming a carer.
You need to either own or rent your own home, which has a spare bedroom and be willing to share your home with a person who needs support.
No qualifications or experience are needed but the scheme will be looking for those who can communicate effectively, build positive relationships and enable people to make choices and decisions.
Cllr Lawrie Stratford, Cabinet member for Adult Social Care, said: “This is an excellent example of how carers across county are opening up their homes and making people feel like their part of the family.
“Our Shared Lives team is always on the lookout for more people like Sue and Tim, and Abbie and Sam. If you have a spare room to offer and would like to play a part in making a difference to someone’s life, then we really want to hear from you.”
Call the Oxfordshire Shared Lives Scheme on 01865 897971 or visit our website www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/sharedlives