Key to the door

Having somewhere of your own to live is something many of us
take for granted. And yet it’s a striking symbol of independence.
The white paper Valuing People recognises this – and makes more
housing options central to improving the lives of people with
learning difficulties.

“The bulk of our work in County Durham relates to the Valuing
People objectives, one of which is about housing choices” says team
manager, Tim Dredge, whose team covers the Easington area – a
coastal strip between Hartlepool and Sunderland. “At consultation
meetings with service users and their families it was clear that
they wanted greater choice and control over where and how they

The management challenge for Dredge was to make this happen. “I
knew that we needed to get partner agencies on board. We started by
working with our local district council – we are a two-tier
authority – making sure they understood the needs of people with
learning difficulties, Valuing People and housing support issues.
The result being that within its own housing strategy the district
council has made people with learning difficulties a priority
group. We also began talking to housing associations, our in-house
provider and private providers,” he says.

One such private provider bought up some council stock and turned
it into a sheltered scheme which can be used by a range of
vulnerable groups – people with learning difficulties, mental
health problems and older people. “This type of scheme is now well
established and promotes social inclusion. We’re looking to expand
these further,” says Dredge.

In looking for alternative options, Dredge interestingly hit upon
the idea of making use of some sheltered housing schemes which
traditionally are aimed at older people. “That meant persuading
councillors, elderly tenants and other groups how people with
learning difficulties will fit into those schemes. It also meant
convincing people that they won’t be a threat and will be well

Given that people with learning difficulties have in the past not
had a strong community presence – tending to be out of sight, out
of mind in various long-stay institutions – educating people about
the client group has been part of the process for Dredge and his
team. “We had some success convincing people about the amount and
quality of support we would put in for people with learning
difficulties. We weren’t going to dump them. We simply explained
that they were local people and that they should be entitled to
local housing,” he says.

And the Durham approach is clearly effective. Says Dredge: “We’ve
gone from having fewer than 20 people with learning difficulties in
their tenancies three years ago to now approaching nearly a hundred
– and this includes people with quite profound and multiple
disabilities. The team works with a caseload of around 300 – which
means we have nearly 30 per cent of people with their own
tenancies. I believe that is a large figure and something the team
is very proud of.”

Although residential care is still one of the options, Dredge is
pleased that evidence shows that the numbers entering care homes is
slowing down and that many people have been moved out into their
own tenancies. “For example, we’re currently working with three
women who developed a strong friendship while in a residential care
home locally and who have decided that they want to live together.
We are working with a housing association and a private provider
about how we do that and we should be putting in place a plan for
them next month,” he says.

And all this has been achieved without any specific post
co-ordinating a housing approach. With 24 members the team includes
social workers and assistants, community nurses and assistants,
psychologist, psychiatrist, NHS occupational therapist, speech and
language therapist, physiotherapist and admin support. “The housing
duties mainly fall upon the care co-ordination staff – the social
work and nursing staff. The OT has a role to play as well, but the
whole team has been working on accommodation issues – and we aim to
give everyone a housing plan. It’s so fundamental to your life; a
key to your door is the key to everything else,” says Dredge.


Name: Tim Dredge

Job: Manager of a multi-disciplinary team working
with adults with learning difficulties in East Durham.

Qualifications: BA social policy & social
work; CQSW & diploma in applied social studies; practice
teacher certificate.

Last job: Social work/care co-ordinator on the
same team.

First job: Nursing assistant for people with
learning difficulties who also had mental health problems.


  • Focus most of your effort on the outcome not the process.
  • Try and think laterally — it will give you more options. 
  •  Share the credit when there’s success. 


  • Let nothing stop you doing everything in the time
  • Be first in, last out – and take work home to finish it

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