Supported living: a life not a service

Last week, Learning Disability England held their first conference, focusing on Supported Living. Certitude was a proud sponsor of the conference and I was delighted to be part of the panel debating how to get supported living right now and for the future. I firmly believe that People and Partnerships are what make supported living a life not a service.

By people I am specifically referring to the personal support from support workers, people who are recruited because of their shared interests with the people they are supporting, people who are inspired by people, who are dependable and reliable, who are always looking for ways to improve the quality of opportunity to people they support, people who know we are better working together than apart.

The great opportunity and indeed the greatest challenge is attracting these people into our support networks and organisations. I remember vividly my first job as a support worker – the fire in my belly to be part of making life great, fun and interesting with the young women with profound Learning Disabilities that I was supporting. I remain confident there are lots of people who have the fire in their belly too – many who don’t even know the wonderful career they could be having! Our collective opportunity is to show what a great job it is to all ages – to inspire those young people who want to change the world that we want them in our world – that they can make a difference – possibly in ways they or we never even dreamt of.

I am inspired by the wonderful young people in the Brit School, the performing arts school in Croydon where each year they put on a joint performance with people with LD – some are now thinking about careers that they didn’t even know existed! I am not disillusioned but I am also not deluded. I know how big our task is – cost of living and wage pressures are challenging especially in London. But we have a better collective offer than we realise and that is our opportunity.

Partnerships are the second key to supported living being a life not a service, a partnership of equals between the person being supported, their family and those providing support, a genuine blending of ideas all focused towards moving forward in life. A partnership that gets things done – that stands firmly alongside the person to fight for their right to a life, the right to housing, the right to funding. A partnership that is under no illusion with regards to its priority. A partnership that is based on honesty and openness that works together to overcome challenges that may sometimes feel insurmountable, that sticks with each other through thick and thin. This is the kind of supported living we seek to offer in Certitude.

Sam* is someone we support who loves water, washing machines and is a great gardener – especially mowing lawns using impressive lawn mowers! He also has a learning disability, autism and a long standing challenging behaviour label. When we met Sam he lived in supported living – in his own place with his own team. Tick tick supported living. Sam rarely went out, he didn’t know his neighbourhood, his team was an all male one and largely geared towards keeping everyone safe. Sam now lives in a house with one other man – the house designed specifically for them both – his own garden which he looks after with great care, a washing machine which when I popped by recently Sam and 2 of his team were lying on the floor next to watching the world and the whirr go round! Sam is a familiar person in his local community – the local cafe knows his favourites. I told you Sam loves water – this included deciding to take an unplanned dip in the lake at the local park. So what do you do? Well, his two support workers got in too! What previously may have led to police being called, a frightened Sam, restraint – you know how it goes – instead led to a fun afternoon that is now one of the many great stories that make up Sam’s interesting life. My point is both of Sam’s housing experiences were supported living but only one is a life.