Shared Lives Plus provide a reflection on the organisation's work across the country throughout the pandemic to continue to support people.

Shared Lives is all about relationships. Abby, who has lived with her Shared Lives carers Louise and Andrew for 12 years, was matched with them by her local Shared Lives scheme. Abby says “I knew straight away that I would fit right in. I came for my dinner and never left!”. Now, she says, “we’re family”.

Abby is one of 545 people in Scotland who are supported through Shared Lives in a mixture of live in, day support and short break arrangements.

With professional care provided in normal family homes, the Shared Lives sector proved itself relatively resilient during the pandemic, with households able to shield together and minimise risk of infection. But it wasn’t without its challenges.

From the start of lockdown, day support and short breaks were largely suspended, only taking place on an emergency basis. Unable to work, many Shared Lives carers found themselves with reduced or no income, but they still went above and beyond, volunteering to help the people they support in other ways, such as telephone befriending, grocery shopping and medicine drop-offs.

At the same time, long-term Shared Lives carers found themselves in the position of providing 24/7 care for the people they support, often with no additional pay.

As the membership organisation for the sector, we at Shared Lives Plus held online meetings for Shared Lives scheme staff across Scotland on a weekly basis, from the start of the pandemic. And we saw the incredible way that scheme staff and Shared Lives carers across Scotland responded to the challenges of lockdown.

Not being able to visit carers’ homes was a huge change and challenge for Shared Lives scheme staff during lockdown, but they responded creatively, doing doorstep deliveries of PPE; visiting carers in their gardens; increasing telephone support; supporting carers and service users to get online; and in some cases, even supplying them with devices.

We saw schemes organise online meetings and social events for their carers and service users. The Shared Lives scheme in Aberdeenshire worked intensively with its carers and service users to keep everyone connected on Microsoft Teams, offering a variety of events, groups and even online 1-2-1 day support between carers and service users. One supported person said that “At first I was a bit scared when there was a lot of people but now I’m fine and have enjoyed virtual holidays, cooking, wellbeing club and still join my friends for the Dance and Movement sessions”.

During the pandemic, Shared Lives Plus developed an online recruitment and assessment portal that our members can use to help assess and recruit new Shared Lives carers. This reduced the need for as many face-to-face meetings and significantly reduced paperwork, speeding up applications from six months to six weeks, while maintaining the quality of the assessment process.

Although Shared Lives is a service with relationships at its heart, the pandemic has shown us that it is possible to use digital options to enhance in-person support. As Shared Lives services return to a greater degree of normality, many changes will likely be retained as part of a blended approach to service provision.

Online meetings and events for carers and service users continue to take place, complementing face-to-face meetings, and enabling greater participation, particularly in remote and rural areas. An increased focus on keeping people connected through outdoor activities is also likely to continue, with all the wellbeing benefits that entails.

Our weekly online meetings of Shared Lives scheme staff have since been scaled back to monthly meetings, but they remain an important source of peer support for our members. Taking opportunities to discuss challenges, explore solutions and share good practice has been critical to ensuring the sector’s resilience during the pandemic, and as a network, we are better connected than ever.

Thinking about her experience of the lockdown, Abby sees positives and negatives too. “It was hard not seeing my family and friends. But if I didn’t have Louise and Andrew, I would be well worse off. I spent a lot of time walking with Louise and Andrew. I feel like we’ve got closer since the pandemic as well”.

Read more about Shared Lives in Scotland (this link will take you away from our website).


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