Community Care’s campaign survey revealed widespread frustration among people with learning disabilities with their living arrangements with two-thirds saying they wanted their own flat. Here, Janet Snell talks to three women about the way their lives are shaped by where they live
Wenda Gordon lives in a group home
“I’ve been here for a few years now. Sometimes it’s OK, but not all the time. It’s too noisy for one thing. And we have arguments about silly things. There are six of us – all women, but the others are a lot older than me. So I go up to my room quite a lot. I want to be by myself.
In the mornings I freshen up, then I go down for breakfast. You have to sit together in the dining room. You’re not allowed to have food in your room. There’s always a member of staff there. I like some of them. After breakfast you do the washing up if it’s your turn. Then I usually go up to my room and watch TV.
Three times a week I go to college to do an access to community work course. It’s about how to get a job. At the moment my job is co-chair of the learning disability partnership board. And I do office work at Lambeth People First. At the home in the evenings sometimes I sit downstairs and try to be friendly. But all they ever do is watch TV. We don’t go out much. It’s boring.
There are a lot of rules. You must keep your room tidy and if you don’t then the house manager will ring the head boss and they will drive down and talk to you about it. And another rule is if you want to go out you have always got to tell somebody where you’re going, what you’re doing and what time you will be back. And if you’re late and you don’t phone they will be worried and they will call the police and tell social services and your social worker. Sometimes if you want to go somewhere they say you can’t because you have an appointment.
If somebody knocks at the door you are not allowed to answer it. It’s very strict but you have to live with it. You have no choice.
They don’t want me to get my own flat yet. But two people I know at college got their own place and one day I would like to. I was happy here at first. But now I’m not. If I had my own flat it would be freedom. At the moment I’m not in control of my life.”
Suzanne Rider lives with her parents
“I live in a flat with my mum and dad and one of my sisters. It’s ok, but it’s frustrating still being at home with them when you’re grown up. I have my own room and I do appreciate what my parents have done for me but it’s a bit of a strain sometimes. I want my own place for the independence and for the sense of freedom. And I’d like to control my own money.
I’ve talked to mum about getting my own place. I’ve thought about it for a very long time now. When I was 21 someone from the council asked me if I wanted my own flat and I said I wasn’t quite ready so they closed the file on me. I think that was wrong – they should give people another chance. So I don’t really trust the council. I feel they’ve messed me about. But now I’ve joined the Homesearch scheme where you put in a bid for a flat every week. I’ve moved from band four to band three but I haven’t been successful in getting a place yet.
I have autism so I know I will need some support when I do get somewhere – just a bit of help with cooking and budgeting. I know it will take a while to get used to it. But if I could have a place of my own then I could make it how I wanted it – not how everyone else wants it.”
Maggie Brennan has her own flat
“I went into care when I was two and social services moved me round quite a bit. I lived in Bristol, Wales, Sussex and Northumberland before I came back to London. I’m settled now but it’s not been easy along the way.
I left school at 17 and went to a special needs college in the North. I lived in and I did pottery, cooking and gardening. It was the nicest place I’ve been to and it helped me build up my confidence.
It finished after two years and the social worker said it was best that I came back to London. I didn’t have any choice really – I had nowhere else to go. They put me in a group home in Streatham and I stayed for two or three years. I was the only woman living with seven men. I didn’t like it as some of them weren’t very nice and they would just walk into your bedroom without asking. Then one day the staff said ‘you’re ready to move out’ so I went to live in a warden-controlled flat.
The others moved out with me and they used to pester me at the new place. I wasn’t happy there. Then in my early twenties I went to live with a family. It was a home placement scheme.
I had a room in Aileen’s house. She looked after two other people. I was happy there for four years but then was feeling a bit low and social services told me I had to move out. They put me in a house for people who had mental illness. It was the worst place I’ve ever lived. Someone broke into my bedroom and stole my TV and I was very upset. And a member of staff hit me but the manager wouldn’t believe me. In the end I spoke to someone at social services and asked whether they could get me out of there. They listened and put me in touch with Lifeways. It’s an organisation that supports you to live in a flat. We went to see a couple of places, then we found one I liked which is the flat I have now.
When I first moved in I got 25 hours a week support but now I get eight hours. I have got more confident and I can do my own cleaning and everything. I just need a bit of help filling in forms and going to hospital as I have some health problems. I have a part-time job with Lambeth People First and that’s great as it means I can pay my own way. I keep in touch with Aileen and we go on holiday together sometimes. I go to art classes and I like knitting and cooking.
It took me a while to get used to having my own place. I never had any choice about where I lived before but now I like having my own space here. And this is a permanent flat, not temporary. So I can stay here as long as I want. I would say to anyone living in a group home or with their parents and thinking about trying for their own place – go for it!”Contact the author
This article appeared in the 24 May issue, under the headline “Freedom would be my own flat”