How award-winning care can be a (dog) walk in the park

For 54 year old Sarah Rees, from Grove near Wantage, caring for strangers has become somewhat of a daily routine – but those she cares for think she’s “incredible” and does a “perfect job.”

As a shared lives carer for Oxfordshire County Council, Sarah offers a place to stay for adults with learning disabilities, mental health problems or other needs that make it harder for them to live on their own. 

Sarah’s been part of the council’s adult social care scheme since 2020 and has just been celebrated at the Oxfordshire Care Awards, winning the Josie Award for her work making “an exceptional difference to dignity in care.”Shared Lives Sarah and Sammy

Shared lives matches someone who needs care with an approved carer like Sarah. The carer shares their family and community life and gives care and support to the person staying with them. Some people move in with their shared lives carer for a period of time, while others stay for regular short breaks.

Sarah said: “Winning at the care awards was a real honour, especially hearing the kind words of the people I support. Being part of shared lives has given me the chance to meet some incredible people. It’s so rewarding for me and my sons – I find it really rewarding on a day to day basis!”

She is currently supporting a young woman called Sammy. Sammy says: “Since living at Sarah’s house, it’s always been like a home to me. Sarah is the most incredible shared lives carer, she always does a perfect job looking after people for respite.

“I am really happy she’s my carer, as she keeps me smiling every day. I am really proud of her winning the award as she deserves to follow her dreams.”

A recurring theme in Sarah’s testimonials is her dog Hugo, who Sarah sees as a valuable member of her shared lives experience. Sarah says: “It’s important that when people stay with us they feel like they’re part of the family. This can be as easy as taking Hugo for a walk in the park.

“While it’s important people have a positive experience with us, that sense of normality can be just what people need to really put them at ease.”Sarah and Sammy 2

Anyone can become a shared lives carer. There are varying levels of commitment from one-off respite stays to more permanent support. Some combine daytime and overnight visits.

Karen Fuller, Oxfordshire County Council’s Interim Director for Adult Social Care, said: “Shared lives is an important part of our Oxfordshire Way vision to support people to live well and independently within their own communities for as long as possible.

“People like Sarah not only offer support to the people with additional needs, but also provide that important respite time for their family and friends who might support them on a more regular basis.

“I’m thrilled Sarah has been acknowledged at the care awards for her work and I hope her story inspires others to take part in the service.”

If you have a spare room, are kind and understanding, and have some time to support someone, you could become a shared lives carer too. Find out more at oxfordshire.gov.uk/sharedlives

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