In this guest blog, an example of a new wave of supported living care services for people with learning disabilities is demonstrated by Robbie, a resident of Willowmead, MyLife’s supported living centre in Surrey, and his support worker Stephen.
Robbie, 20, has been living at Willowmead since April. He takes up his story: “I was really ready to get my own place. I’d been living with a foster family. I suppose a lot of people my age want to live independently and that’s what I wanted to do.
“Your family doesn’t always have time to do things with you or help you to learn so you end up spending too much time at home doing nothing. It’s not that I can’t do things for myself, I just need a bit of support.
“It’s great that I could come to Willowmead. Until I moved here I’d never been shopping to buy food, I didn’t know how to budget (I’m still not very good at that!) and I really worried about getting on a bus and getting off at the right place.
“I met Stephen the day I moved in. We got on straight away because we both love football. We go to the pub to watch matches on the big screen there; it was a great place to watch Euro 2016!
“Stephen has helped me get to know people in the pub. I wouldn’t have had the confidence to go there by myself, let alone speak to people. Or I would have got it wrong; sometimes I can be over-confident.
“With Stephen we just enjoy the football or play a game of pool. The bar staff are nice and they remember now that I always have a pint of cola. Everyone’s really friendly and we have a good time.
“I go to meet friends in Kingston sometimes, and Stephen comes with me on the bus. I wouldn’t feel confident to go by myself so he’s opened up a lot of things to me, like going to the supermarket. Because he’s come with me and shown me what to do I sometimes go on my own now.
“We get on and we can spend time together just talking or playing computer games. I can talk to him about anything and there are no awkward silences.
“I want to move out eventually into my own place and I couldn’t do that without the support he and the rest of the staff at Willowmead have given me.”
Stephen, 31, has been working at Willowmead since April. He says: “I moved into the area shortly before Robbie came here, so we’ve been exploring together and making friends at the same time. We get on well, we’ve got the same sense of humour and both love football.
“I’m Robbie’s key worker, the person he sees the most, and it’s vital to have that kind of relationship. Support at Willowmead is person-centred so I need to understand who he is, what he likes, the areas he needs most support with, and any triggers that cause him stress, or affect his behaviour.
“I help Robbie to manage his day-to-day life – things like handling money, cooking, cleaning, and taking public transport – these all help him to get out and be active in the community. It’s about empowering Robbie to have the skills and the confidence to live life as he wants to live it.
“I’ve been a support worker for 11 years and what I’m able to do here is the best example of transformational care I’ve seen.
“I know that national policy is moving to support for people with learning disabilities and I like to think that in my own small way I’m helping to change the culture of care.
“How I spend my time with Robbie is driven by him and what he wants to do. I can help him find opportunities, such as going to training with a local football team, but these are always based on his interests.
“I think Professor Barry Carpenter CBE’s approach that guides our work here, to support people as individuals, engaging them in their community and responding to how they want to live, is long overdue – isn’t that how we all want to live?
“Giving Robbie the dignity of his own studio flat is also hugely important at Willowmead; a nicely decorated, well-maintained space that’s his. And my attitude to that is equally important – I only go into it when he invites me.
“I have a supportive relationship with Robbie rather than a directive one. His behaviour can be challenging if he can’t make choices for himself and doesn’t feel in control. Since he moved here I’ve seen quite a change in him. He’s much calmer and much happier.
“Our relationship is good because of the way we work together, because of the mutual respect we have for each other.
“Policy is definitely moving care and support in the right direction for individuals like Robbie and staff like me because the outcomes for all of us are so much better.”
The final word goes to Robbie – as Stephen would say, it always does.
“No-one round here knows that I’ve got a learning disability and they don’t have to,” he says. “It’s changed my life living at Willowmead – actually it’s given me a life – and that’s really because of the friendship I have with Stephen.”
For more information go to www.mylife.uk.com