Yarnton resident helps those with additional support needs through flexible working

When Mary Clarke, a former dementia care nurse from Yarnton, decided to retire, she knew that she wanted to continue to provide some care and support to Oxfordshire residents – but with greater flexibility and on hours and terms which suited her.

Now, thanks to Shared Lives, a well established initiative run by Oxfordshire County Council, Mary does just that, working directly from her home as a short term carer for those who need additional support to live more independently – with happy memories created along the way.

“Shared Lives is a genius scheme – everyone should know about it,” said Mary. “I didn’t want to say goodbye to my roots in care entirely but knew that a traditional role wouldn’t work for me, my circumstances, or my time of life. The flexible model enables me to make use of my caring skills and really make a difference to Oxfordshire communities.”

With a successful application, Mary became a Shared Lives carer and was free to shape her ideal working environment without sacrificing doing what she loves. Now, over three years on, she hopes to encourage others to do the same.

Step by step help

Unlike Mary, many people who join Shared Lives have little or no experience in the care support sector and are entering the initiative with fresh eyes. While the training offered meant that Mary could build on the skills she gained during her career, it also provides a clear but comprehensive introduction for those who are less experienced or new to care.

Importantly, once the necessary steps are complete, all carers have oversight of an individual’s care plan and support needs to ensure the match is a right fit. From there, a careful introduction process to any potential matches takes place.

“It’s a very equal, reciprocal process. Carers and individuals in need of support are matched carefully so that it works for everyone. At no stage did I ever feel compelled or pressured to welcome someone into my home, and if I did have hesitations, there were no questions asked – my wishes were very much respected.”

Mary also has a team worker who she can call with questions, concerns, or simply if she feels she needs support.

A new way of working

Unlike some other health and social care roles, Shared Lives enables all its carers to work directly from their own home. Carers choose their hours and the levels of support they feel they can provide.

For some, this might mean having a long-term arrangement, where carers are paired with an individual who will live with them on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. For others – such as Mary – short-term stays are best.

“When I was considering Shared Lives, I wanted to make sure I had a good deal of flexibility, not only to work around my current commitments, but so that I could make changes to my work structure if I needed to,” said Mary.

“Becoming a short-term carer was an obvious route for me. I provide respite care – a safe and secure home for individuals who need a short stay away. Sometimes their families or guardians need a break, other times people come to me on an urgent request until a more permanent situation can be found. It’s extremely rewarding but ultimately doesn’t interfere with any other aspect of my life.”

No one size fits all

Just as Shared Lives works with carers from a range of backgrounds, skill sets and experiences, the initiative also offers support to individuals with diverse and evolving needs.

Shared Lives proudly supports individuals with many health or disability needs, including learning disabilities, Parkinson’s, autism, dementia, epilepsy and more. It’s this diversity, as well as getting to know individuals from across the county, which Mary enjoys most as a Shared Lives carer.

“You build strong relationships with the people you care for very quickly,” Mary said of her experience. “I’ve had lots of laughs and make very happy memories with the people who come to stay in my home. In many ways, it’s no different to having a house guest.”

While some individuals need a home they can stay at throughout each day with more hands-on support, others may go to work, a day centre, or other regular service and simply need a home to return to.

No looking back

Now several years on, Mary is extremely pleased she decided to join Shared Lives and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others looking for a fresh approach to work or change of pace.

“I speak to others in the county who are thinking about becoming a carer and will always encourage them to give it a try,” said Mary. “There’s absolutely nothing to lose and so much gain. It feels so natural looking after someone and sharing our home without the paperwork and travelling that working for a business often involves.”

“Shared Lives is beyond rewarding. The model is beneficial to everyone involved and means I can support individuals and communities with very little restriction to my daily life.”

If you’re interested in finding out more about the Shared Lives scheme and how you can get involved, please visit Oxfordshire County Council’s website: oxfordshire.gov.uk/sharedlives

For more information about this release contact the Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council communications team on 01865 323870 or email press.office@oxfordshire.gov.uk

Click Sign up to hear from us and receive the latest news and updates thanks to our fortnightly newsletter, Your Oxfordshire.