SunnywideSunnyside House’s My LIFE training programme is helping residents with learning disabilities to learn the skills they need to not just live an independent life but thrive in their own home. Editor Dan Parton reports:

For Gavin, who lives at Sunnyside House, a residential home for adults with learning disabilities near Thurrock in Essex, three-and-a-half years of hard work are about to pay off as he takes his first steps towards an independent life.

The 25-year-old will soon move into Sunnyside’s transition flat, which is attached to the main house, where he will be able to live on his own for the first time, but will have access to his support team when he feels he needs it. The Sunnyside team will also be able to monitor his progress and assess where he needs extra support or training.
“I’m excited to be moving into the flat,” he says.

This change in lifestyle is a tremendous achievement for Gavin, says Jan Faulkner, the deputy manager of Sunnyside House, and is largely thanks to the home’s My LIFE training programme. She adds that Gavin was uncertain as to whether he could do this before he moved into Sunnyside.

My LIFE – which stands for Learning Independence For Ever – is a modular programme that teaches people with learning disabilities life skills. The programme can be adapted to work with people with various levels and types of disabilities or mental health issues as the 21 modules in it relate to areas such as confidence building, assertiveness, dealing with conflict and budgeting. It can be used in full or specific elements can be selected, according to the individual needs of the service user.

“My LIFE has really broadened Gavin’s horizons and made him see what can be achieved and have the confidence to go for these things,” says Faulkner. For example, he wants to move forward and get permanent paid employment, which he may not have been ready to do three years ago.

“He also goes to social clubs and will get on karaoke machines as well as recently delivering a presentation to around 50 social workers at the national Community Care Live conference which, again, three years ago, he wouldn’t have had the confidence to do.”

It’s My LIFE

Faulkner, who also oversees delivery of the My LIFE programme at Sunnyside, explains the principles behind it: “We work on independence training skills, so that when residents do leave us they have the skills necessary not just to live independently but, more importantly, to be able to stay in independent living. There have been a lot of cases where people have moved into the community too quickly and unfortunately they don’t have the skills necessary to maintain their independence and they come back into residential care again. We teach them the skills that can take them forward into independent living and sustain that.”

My LIFE is also about building service users’ confidence, which can be crucial in giving them the belief that they can achieve their goals, whether it is independent living or gaining paid employment, Faulkner adds.

My LIFE is a flexible programme, which can be adapted to individual service users’ needs. At Sunnyside, each resident, along with their key worker, looks at what are the most relevant skills they need to learn, or develop, in their lives at the time.

“For example, if we had a young man who had a relationship problem, the key worker would order that module and work on that specifically because that’s the need at that moment,” Faulkner says. “It is not a rigid pattern – everybody doesn’t do the same thing in the same order, it is individually-based, which is why it works.

“What I like about the My LIFE programme is there is no pressure; our philosophy with the residents is that it is a journey not a race so we aren’t rushing them through it just to get the job done. It is a very carefully structured programme with trained tutors.”

Faulkner adds that the My LIFE tutors adapt their teaching style to suit the needs of the person they are working with. For example, if someone prefers to draw a picture of their thoughts and feelings, rather than write them down, the tutor will adapt to suit that.

“It is getting to know who they are, and then doing the best you can in order for them to achieve their ambitions.

“Their goals in the My LIFE programme are incorporated into their care plan as well so all staff in the home are aware of their goals and ambitions, so we are all singing from the same song book.

“It has equipped people with knowledge to do things they may have dreamt of doing but never thought they could and now they are – and that’s fantastic.”

Gavin’s story

This is the case with Gavin. When he came to Sunnyside more than three years ago, he dreamed of living independently and getting a job, but he didn’t have the life skills to achieve either. But now, after taking part in the My LIFE programme, not only is he working towards independent living, he has also got a voluntary job working three days a week at the local council offices in Thurrock.

“At the council building, I sort all the parcels and mail out that are delivered from different companies,” he says. “I then tell people that they have parcels to collect.”

Gavin also works on the reception desk welcoming customers and performing general office duties such as photocopying.

He also travels on his own on the bus to and from the council offices.

“I couldn’t do that before I moved into Sunnyside House,” he says.

Gavin has now completed most of the modules in the My LIFE programme, including managing money, healthy eating, travel, time management, stress management, assertiveness, citizenship and relationships.

His next challenge is the transition flat module, which covers everything that service users need to know about living independently, including things like paying their bills on time and appropriate relationships with neighbours, which they might not have had to deal with before.

Gavin is confident he can adapt as he does a lot of things independently already. “I cook healthy meals at the house and clean my own bedroom, and I vacuum, do the mopping, I iron my clothes and do my own washing,” he says.

“When I’m in the training flat the staff from Sunnyside will come round to see how I’m getting on and how I’ve progressed. Once I have been in there, I will look to move into my own place.”


The My LIFE programme has also received national commendation. In March, the Sunnyside team won the ‘Most effective new approach to service delivery’ award and then picked up the overall Winner of Winners Award at the Skills for Care Accolades ceremony. Skills for Care is a national adult social care workforce development organisation.

The judges were impressed by the programme’s aim to enable people with learning disabilities to gain knowledge and skills to live independently, the staff’s commitment to person-centred care and how thinking differently about service delivery has transformed the lives of the people they work with.

The team at Sunnyside plan to build on this success. For instance, the My LIFE programme is being expanded into another residential home that caters for people with mental health problems.

Sunnyside is also seeking commissioners and service users who are interested in piloting the My LIFE programme in their area to help develop it further.

For more information on Sunnyside House and the My LIFE programme, go to: