‘It’s about liberty’

In the weeks ahead, Community Care plans to highlight people and projects that we believe translate social care values into action. Stand up for Social Care

The first is Maggie Pinder and her team with Hertfordshire Council adult services who have helped transform the lives of a group of people with learning difficulties.

Twenty-four former residents of long-stay hospitals who were transferred into a drab hostel are now living in their own homes on a housing estate in Letchworth thanks to an intensive support package provided by the team. And the best part is that the tenants were fully involved from designing right through to furnishing the flats.

Pinder says: “Two years ago when the council did a deal with a housing association to build an affordable homes scheme in the hostel grounds it was an opportunity to make changes.”

The team spoke to each resident about what sort of place they wanted to live in then fed the ideas to the architect. They also involved an advocate to make sure people felt able to speak frankly about any concerns.

“It turned out they weren’t telling us the full picture but they shared with the advocate fears about moving.”

It was agreed with the builders that tenants could have access to the building site and a transparent screen was put up so people could watch the whole thing as it went up.

When the flats were finished staff negotiated a two-week run up to moving day and used it to gradually build up the time each individual spent in their flats. At the end they could hardly wait to get the keys.

“It was all about taking things at their pace and listening.”

Tenant Jan Wilkinson adds: “We chose everything here. It is better than where we used to live. I like my flat with just the two of us and not being stuck in with lots of people.”

Staff went through an intensive training programme. “It was good to have a moving day as we could declare a fresh start for everyone,” says Pinder. “We geared up staff for the move and made sure we reflected the whole ethos of Valuing People.

“In the hostel we referred to people as service users or clients but now we call them tenants because we are going into their homes.

“We asked individuals what they wanted from their care packages and then we staffed-up around that. It was important to get it that way round even though it means intensive staffing levels.”

Thirty-three staff support the 24 residents who live in a mixed development of flats with between one and four bedrooms. There is also a five-bedroom flat for high dependency tenants.

Pinder explains how the move has empowered people.

“One tenant who has Down’s syndrome and autism and other problems, which mean her support needs are high, complained to me that because of a road accident a member of staff had not been able to get in to see her,” says Pinder.

“She wasn’t satisfied with an apology and was demanding she got the five hours she was entitled to. When she came in she said to me ‘It’s about my liberty’ and I was delighted that she felt able to express herself in those terms. She got her five hours.”

The flats are homes for life for the tenants so when one woman was diagnosed with terminal cancer and said she wanted to die at home staff went to great lengths to organise the care to make that possible.

Pinder says: “We nursed her and her friends were able to drop in and be with her at the end. It was the kind of thing that most people would want but what’s great about what we have going on here is that now people with learning difficulties can have it too.”

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