Share lives and open homes to vulnerable
They are ordinary people from all different walks of life but they have one thing in common - they open up their homes to help others.
Almost two years ago Gina Homer, aged 61, became a Shared Lives carer welcomed a young woman in need of support into her family.
Shared Lives is a little known innovative alternative to hospital and residential care for vulnerable adults that offers long-term and short break accommodation in a family setting.
There are around 12,000 adults currently being supported by 9,000 carers across England and the sector has grown by 30 per cent over the last few years.
The goal is for everyone to feel a sense of belonging, be valued as part of family life and have the opportunity to be actively involved in the community.
Traditionally a service for people with learning disabilities, it is also open to older people with a frailty or dementia and those with mental health problems or physical disabilities.
Carers are carefully matched to someone in need to ensure they are both going to be happy with the arrangement and they provide support to develop practical skills, build self-esteem and encourage new social skills.
For grandmother of three Gina, who lives with husband Martin and son Ben, 32, in Wordsley, it's already been a rewarding experience.
They welcomed 29-year-old Emma Cooper, who has learning disabilities, into their home in Wordsley in April 2017 and she quickly became one of the family.
Gina, who had been a carer for elderly people for 20 years, is one of 38 Shared Lives carers across Dudley borough, providing either long-term care or respite care.
She hadn't heard of Shared Lives until a friend mentioned it to her but she jumped at the chance to offer up her spare room.
"I had never heard about Shared Lives until a school friend told me about it. I wish I had known about it earlier," she says.
Gina and Emma spend a lot of time together from going shopping to visiting friends and family. While Gina also supports Emma so she can attend Stoneleigh Day Centre and enjoy her hobbies such as art.
"It's been the best thing I've ever done. It's something very worthwhile and you're helping someone else. My husband said if we had another spare room we would do it again," said Gina.
In the West Midlands, there are 900 people receiving help from 750 Shared Lives carers, who are paid but are self-employed in a similar way to foster carers.
In Dudley borough, the scheme is run on behalf of the council by CVT Shared Lives, as part of the national charity Camphill Village Trust, which has a base in Stourbridge.
Head of service Dean Barnshaw said: "The Shared Lives model has a strong track record going back many years, and it really does challenge the assumptions of what can be achieved when someone with additional or complex needs is supported in an ordinary family home.
"Not only does Shared Lives provide better outcomes for those who wish to remain in the community, it is also seen as a cost effective alternative to other settings, such as long-stay hospital and residential care.
"Research suggests that people who live in Shared Lives Arrangements, are known to lead longer, healthier and happier lives, in terms of developing social and practical skills, building self-esteem and creating new opportunities and friendships.
"CVT Shared Lives is just one of 11 schemes supporting approximately 800 people throughout the West Midlands, and we are currently working in partnership with Dudley Council, who have ambitious plans to expand the new service significantly across the borough and surrounding Black Country region over the coming years.
"We would urge more households to contact us and find out more about becoming a paid carer, where from your own home, you can make a genuine difference to someone’s quality of life.’
*To find out more about Shared Lives call 01384 441505 or see www.cvt.org.uk/sharedlives