In Steven Spielberg’s recent film, War of the Worlds, home is being invaded by HG Wells’ martians. The micro-plot sees Tom Cruise as the lost and useless father battling his way through digital devastation on his redemptive journey home.

Since time immemorial a sense and value of our own place, and the need to find or regain it, has been carved deep into the human psyche. Herman Melville said: “Life’s a voyage that’s homeward bound.” Home is part of an evolution of ideas reaching back some 20,000 years. It is a mythic, momentous idea. When we are in another’s home, or their conception of it, we need to tread carefully.

The adult green paper considers “the right to request not to live in a residential setting”. Equally, people have the right not to be isolated in some crummy bedsit opposite the local crack den. People moving into residential care often do so to find, or regain, a sense of home. For some, especially in mental health, home is yet to be realised. A service user I knew had spent years under siege in his own flat. The local community had turned against him because of his odd ways. He was too frightened to leave his flat. Psychiatrists called him paranoid. He moved to residential care to be in a nurturing environment and discover some sense of home.

Home is a state of mind. It is not necessarily the address where you live. Most of us settle for something short of our idealised notion. Reality is never ideal.

But in residential care the notion of home is compromised by landslides  of files, people starting and finishing their shifts and the office door closing on another staff meeting. Every minute, it must be remembered that it is a person’s home before it is someone’s workplace. If this is not done then all else will fail under the banner of care.

Residential care should be big and brave enough to meet the changing needs of a home – as determined by those whose home it is. It is their narrative path that the professional carer bears witness to.

Each day epic battles are fought in our towns. A heroic struggle takes place to live out some kind of “normal” life. And home is always the place to return. Tom Cruise’s character finds his real home after fleeing the place where he lived. For many service users it isn’t so different.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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