A humdrum 1970s terrace house on an estate in Farnborough, Hampshire is housing a pioneering project. Its four 21-year-old female tenants have moderate to severe learning disabilities which, when they were younger, led their parents to believe they would never be able to live on their own or have paid jobs.
But in a groundbreaking transition project, Hampshire Council is helping them live semi-independently, and preparing them for even more independence in the future. The idea was developed by the council’s adult services team after the Valuing People white paper was released in 2001, which emphasised the value of supported living, particularly for young adults.
Suitable candidates were proposed but their parents were sceptical, says care manager Vanessa Eales, at the North East Hampshire learning disability team: “They were very wary and thought they were too vulnerable. But they have come around.”
After several meetings, Jade, Gemma, Kate and Samantha moved in to the five-bedroom house in Farnborough in August 2005, full of trepidation at such a change.
They had previously met socially but were not friends, and were picked because of their complementary skills. This has proved successful where Samantha is strong at organisation, Gemma is better at housework, Kate enjoys cooking and Jade is good at remembering activities and routines.
The aim was for them to live together as closely as possible to students. They each signed a tenancy agreement with housing association Pavilion, enrolled in Farnborough College, decorated their bedrooms and were helped to find part-time jobs. Now, they all work at the local Pizza Hut, pay their own bills, cook, eat together and clean – with a lot of encouragement and some practical help from the team of eight support workers provided by Tact, a domiciliary support agency. They do their shopping and banking, and enjoy nights out to the pub, bowling, and bingo. They even go on holiday together this year they went to Mallorca for a week.
They have their own support worker, and one of the team stays overnight, so there is 24-hour assistance if necessary. The scheme costs adult social services £214 a week for each woman – far cheaper than a residential home place. The women are also funded by Independent Living Funds and Supporting People.
Eales says: “There’s all this buzz about individually commissioned services and bespoke services – well, this is a bespoke service, we know that it works, and it’s cheap. We try to get best value for money but above all it’s the clients’ own choice.”
The transition was successful, particularly because of the excellent support workers whom the women treat as friends. Michelle Robb, who manages the team, says: “The girls were all quite keen to give it a go. It has made a big difference.
“They use public transport on their own, go to college and come back without support, 75% of the time they cook their tea simply with verbal prompts and they do 95% of the shopping.
“And they adore their jobs. It is difficult for people with learning disabilities to do this. Seeing the progress the girls have made, it would be great if there were more.”
This is a view firmly held by their parents. Karen Peet, Jade’s mum, says the scheme has given her daughter a social life and confidence that she would never have gained if she had stayed at home. Previously, Jade would follow her mother around the house, even waiting outside the toilet for her.
Peet says: “The scheme is fantastic. I never thought Jade would get a job. She does it with support but they are starting to stand back. Jade now has a life.”
When you speak to Samantha, the most gregarious of the four, she clearly enjoys her time. She says: “I’m happy, I love it here. I feel proud of myself.”
The council is now in the process of finding other suitable tenants. And with the end of their three-year programme only eight months away, it is time to start thinking about the women’s next move. Three want to carry on living together with support, while one hopes to live on her own.
Whatever happens, Eales says they now have the ability to deal with new challenges. “I have seen a vast difference in confidence. They have a sense of identity, they have their own visitors, they are valued in their own right. Whatever they move on to, they will not be frightened.”
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This article appeared in the 31 January issue under the headline “Let’s live a little!”