“From first arriving here all those years ago I have felt safe and comfortable, completely at home and part of a real family.”
Those are the words of Dawn Stephenson who credits Durham Shared Lives with transforming her life.
The Durham County Council service is part of a nationwide scheme that provides emergency, short-term and long-term care for adults within a family environment. It sees people known as Shared Lives Providers’ open up their home to a person who needs care and support, helping them to develop independent living skills and to become part of the local community.
Dawn first joined Scott Caisley and his partner in their home near Stanley for a series of respite visits but this developed into a long-term placement. Dawn had spent most of her life in residential care homes and had always struggled with her confidence, but her mental health deteriorated rapidly following a family tragedy.
With Scott’s support, Dawn has flourished into a confident woman, who knows her own mind and is not afraid to be heard. Having a caring and attentive family by her side, has renewed Dawn’s zest for life and she loves days out, shopping, holidays and spending time at home knitting and listening to music, knowing she is safe and cared for.
“I am part of a real family,” said Dawn. “Durham Shared Lives and Scott have changed my life.”
This month, Shared Lives schemes across the country have been celebrating the amazing work providers do to help people lead independent and fulfilling lives. Dawn and Scott hope by sharing their story they will encourage more people to become Shared Lives Providers.
Scott said: “I have been involved in the care of adults all of my life, as many of my family members were carers.
“I love being able to give someone a proper family life. Our lives and home would certainly feel very empty without Dawn.”
Living in such a caring environment has been especially important for Dawn over the last 12 months, as severe knee pain had left her unable to move without walking sticks or a wheelchair.
In January, she underwent a full hip replacement and the road to recovery has been tough. Scott has supported Dawn every step of the way, never leaving her side while she was in hospital, taking her to physiotherapy appointments and keeping her spirits up.
“Now Dawn has almost full mobility and is able to live life to the full again,” said Scott. “She is counting down the days for our holiday in August.”
Cllr Lucy Hovvels, Cabinet member for adults and health at Durham County Council, said: “Seeing the positive difference Scott has made to Dawn’s wellbeing is truly heart-warming, and demonstrates the power of a loving family environment to transform lives. It is also wonderful to hear how positive the experience has been for Scott too. I hope this story will encourage more people to consider becoming a Shared Lives Provider.”
People of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities can apply to become a provider. They can be married, single or living with a partner and it does not matter if they have children or whether they are homeowners or live in rented accommodation.
The assessment process takes six to eight weeks and includes DBS checks, home checks and induction training delivered by the council. Applications are then considered by an independent panel.
As well as the initial training, providers and the people they care for can attend fun day trips, with the most recent outing taking place earlier this month to the seaside. A Providers Support Network is also being developed to enable people to share ideas and advice. To find out more, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 03000 265 222.