Shared Lives Week 2021: Experience the rewards of being a Shared Lives carer

Humbling, rewarding and satisfying were the three words Barbara and John McGrath used to describe being a Shared Lives carer.

The retired couple have spent much of their lives since 2013 caring for others, whether it be their grandchildren, or for people like Jennifer, who need additional emotional and psychological support.

They have done this under the Shared Lives programme, where people open their lives and homes up to help those in need of support.

During this Shared Lives Week, Barbara (69) and John (71) are encouraging others to consider doing the same.

Barbara, who has lived in Abingdon her entire life, explained: “John and I have been part of Shared Lives for a number of years and it means so much to us to know and witness we are making a difference to Jennifer’s life.

“Jennifer has been part of our family since she was seven years old, when we first started to help her parents out after school a few days a week.”

When Jennifer turned 18, she had become such an integral part of the family, she decided to join the Shared Lives scheme.

“In her teenage years we were approached by her social worker regarding a long-term placement with us and we never hesitated in saying ‘yes’ as she had already become part of our family and would have been greatly missed,” Barbara continued.

“She brings so much joy and happiness and lights up our life – it’s the best feeling ever!”

With most things, there are some challenges, but these are nothing that the McGraths cannot handle, and support is always on hand from the Shared Lives team when needed..

Barbara added: “Of course, there have been minor challenges like how are we going to fit Jennifer and our grandchildren in the car? Being available to take her to activities and some health issues but these have all been overcome by planning and being organised but no more than you would expect having an extra member in our family.

“During lockdown as well, Jennifer was unable to go out and enjoy a lot of the activities she would normally do or see her friends. So, we looked to recreate her routine at home, including cooking, singing, gardening, and meeting up with her friends online.

“Difficulties have cropped up on occasions, but you get to know the person really well and know how to manage it but knowing support is always there from the Shared Lives team is comforting,” said Barbara.

When Jennifer was asked about living with Barbara and John, she had this to say: “You are funny, you take me to clubs. I like dinners at Barbara’s.”

Councillor Jenny Hannaby, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care, said: “Those who take part in the scheme are absolutely incredible people. They take people into their homes and care for them as part of their own family. We are all very proud of our Shared Lives service here in Oxfordshire.

“I applaud the inspirational efforts of Barbara and John in opening up their home to Jennifer for all these years. It’s clear they have such a strong bond and are making a real difference to her life.”

Events will be taking place across the UK as part of Shared Lives Carer Week, organised by Shared Lives Plus, the UK charity, such as The Big Share in the open air. Instead of the usual tea parties, Shared Lives families and supporters are getting together to have a picnic in the open air to support current government guidance on COVID-19. Find out more about events going on throughout the week on the Shared Lives Plus website.

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. Whatever your circumstances, your application is welcomed.

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 people who can communicate effectively, build positive relationships and enable people to make choices and decisions.

The scheme offers different types of arrangements: 

  • Day care - Supporting a person for a few hours per day but not overnight.
  • Short breaks - Providing a short break for a person. This can be anything from one night to a few weeks at a time and may be a one-off or on a regular basis.
  • Emergency care - When support is needed urgently, for example, the same or next day, without time for introductory visits.
  • Long term care / permanent arrangement - When the plan is for a person to live long-term with a carer, that is, anything over three months.

Call the Oxfordshire Shared Lives scheme on 01865 897971 or visit www.oxfordshire.gov.uk/sharedlives to find out more.