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“Shared Lives saved my life – and theirs”

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Margaret Long, Adele Henshaw and Esther Parry
Margaret Long, Esther Parry and Adele Henshaw

“If it wasn’t for Margaret, I’d have been in a bad place and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it at all. She helped me a lot.” Adele, 43

Before meeting Margaret Long, Adele Henshaw and Esther Parry led isolated lives. A lack of support left them open to emotional and financial exploitation and poor physical health.

“I was living in a flat on my own and I wasn’t coping. I wasn’t paying my bills on time. I was getting in debt,” says Esther.

“I was twenty stone when I met Margaret. She showed me what to eat and what not to eat, because I was eating through the day. Rubbish as well.”

Esther now has stable finances and has lost eight and a half stone since she started living with Margaret in 2015.

Adele was booked into temporary emergency accommodation in Lancaster following financial abuse from her then boyfriend. Following the careful matching process by Lancashire’s Shared Lives scheme, Adele moved in with Margaret, a Shared Lives carer, in 2011.

“I enjoy Shared Lives because you live with a carer. It’s always nice to live in a family. It’s like a second family,” says Adele.

The women now have many hobbies and have enjoyed their new found sense of independence. Esther enjoys going out and meeting friends, going to discos, singing and bowling, whilst Adele loves music. Adele has recently started a relationship with her new boyfriend:

“Yeah, he’s nice.”

Like everyone, the pandemic has massively disrupted their day to day lives. On top of the lockdowns they have moved house twice in the past year. Despite all this the three of them have remained resilient.

“You know these two ladies, honestly, I cannot commend them enough for the way they’ve been. They have been brilliant. They’ve just literally got on with it and that wasn’t easy because we before lockdown, they were going out every day, meeting their friends and family. And everything stopped and that was tough” says Margaret.

As all of us had to, Esther and Adele adapted to the new normal of lockdown, and also picked up some new hobbies. Over Zoom Esther proudly shows a cloth she made using cross stitch, and a diamond painting. Likewise, Adele gleefully presents her fully completed sticker book.

“I got this sticker by numbers book and Margaret thought I wouldn’t be able to do it because I’m not patient, and I was patient with it. And I was shocked at myself thinking I’m not normally like this. I’m normally fuming by now, but I’m not. And I stick all the numbers and it’s really good and gives you something to do when you’re not on a zoom session.”

Adele celebrated her 44th birthday on the 14th of June with a tea party – with three generations of Shared Lives carers!

This date also marks the start of Shared Lives Week, run by Shared Lives Plus UK which celebrates everyone involved in Shared Lives, especially the 10,000 Shared Lives carers who have helped thousands of people like Adele and Esther be safe and connected during lockdown.

Adele and Esther are thankful they’ve had Margaret by their side in previous years and are thankful for the effect she’s had on their lives.

“If you struggle on something, she’s always there to help you. If you need any help, or if there’s anything bothering you, she’s always there.

“If it wasn’t for Margaret, I’d have been in a bad place and I didn’t want that. I didn’t want it at all. So she helped me a lot, to lose weight. It was really bad because I’m a diabetic and I didn’t want to go on to insulin and that was the track and I thought, no, I’m gonna change my life.” Says Adele

“If I’m feeling down, she’s there to talk to.

“I didn’t feel like I could go out. And yeah, I had no confidence and now I have,” says Esther.

Margaret is just as happy with their living arrangement as the women she supports are. Both her parents had been Shared Lives carers, as well as her sister. Having seen the positive effects becoming a carer has had on her family’s life Margaret decided to quit her job as a revenue and payments officer at the council and become a Shared Lives carer.

“I just thought it’s such a nice life. You can’t lose, it’s a win win situation. You know you’re helping them. They’re helping you as well, really, because I didn’t like living on my own.

Following Adele moving and settling in with Margaret, Esther moved in three and a half years later. “That’s how it worked out, and it was perfect really.”

However, Margaret is frustrated at the lack of awareness of Share Lives care which she believes gives people a better quality of life.

“When you say you’ve got people living with you with learning disabilities, they just can’t get their heads round that because lots of people live in supportive living, with their parents, or a care home. And I think that’s not for everyone. I think this is definitely a better environment for everyone to live happily, still be independent as much as they can be. They don’t need to worry about anything, money you know. I helped Adele find and make friends and got a lot of activities. She was only doing one thing for half a day every week. She had nothing to do.

“I do think there’s not out there enough for people. I know a few people at the moment who would absolutely thrive in Shared Lives.

“It’s definitely the way forward. For anyone who’s struggling living on their own in a flat or you know is struggling anyway, then yeah, this is for them definitely.

And for anyone who wants a more flexible, paid way of life, where you can be yourself and encourage someone else to flourish, I’d say to find out about becoming a Shared Lives carer. It’s saved their lives and mine.”

Shared Lives carers come from a range of careers and do not specifically require formal care experience. They are carefully matched with their guests and encouraged to help them develop practical skills, build self-esteem and establish new friendships and social networks in their own neighbourhood, which creates a sense of belonging and community.

Training and a support network are provided to all Shared Lives carers as well as a good salary, including £10k tax free, plus up to £6k tax free for each person supported (with a max of three people). Carers are self-employed, so there are no zero hours contracts, which enables them to do the role as part of their family and life commitments. People who visit or live with Shared Lives carers range from young people leaving care, to older people, those with dementia or someone just needing short term support following hospital treatment.

To become a Shared Lives carer, you must be over 18 years of age, you don’t need specific qualifications, just the right values, commitment and personal skills to support someone in your home – and of course, a spare bedroom.

To find out more about becoming a Shared Lives carer, go to sharedlivesplus.org.uk/start-your-shared-life

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