Lucy Winter talks to us about what it’s like to be on our Shared Lives Panel
I was 21 and had just moved to London and was working as a support worker in Hounslow. I’d studied theatre studies at university, and I’d planned to get some clinical experience to become a drama therapist for people with learning disabilities. But that isn’t what happened.
After a couple of years with Certitude, I stayed in social care and started to work with L’Arche. And that’s where I’ve been ever since. My work gradually carried me into more leadership positions, and I’ve now been a Director and Community Leader at L’Arche London for 5 years. But I still kept in touch with my old line manager at Certitude.
That’s how I first heard about the Shared Lives Panel. In one of our catchups, there was a casual mention… “Oh, this opportunity is coming up.” I was initially really intrigued because I’d been hoping to do something outside of my day job, in a kind of voluntary capacity. And it was great to have an informal conversation about what it might involve beforehand. It helped build my anticipation. Even before any information came out, I was like “ooo, this could be new opportunity to do something a little bit different”. We’d been talking a bit about Shared Lives where I worked, so it was good timing really. An opportunity to reconnect with Certitude whilst expanding my knowledge and understanding of the Shared Lives model in practice. So, I applied. It was the loveliest application form I’ve ever had to fill in. The interviews were very straightforward, and I was so happy to be accepted.
Since I joined last year, we’ve had three meetings as a panel and the work has been a blessing really. A chance to work in partnership with people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge. That idea of being able to network and bring in different viewpoints which you can then take back to the work that you’re doing, it just adds a different dimension to things. It’s so valuable, especially when you’ve been working with one organisation for a long time. You can get used to doing things in a certain way. Finding knowledge outside of your everyday and bringing it back into your place of work is something that I’m particularly passionate about.
One of the things that I’m mindful of in social care is, that governance can almost feel like it’s something that happens over there. Far removed from the heart of where the decisions need to be made. So having this advisory panel feels essential. That extra expertise and knowledge is incredibly helpful because staff don’t have all the answers. Sometimes, that external critical friend looking in, will help improve support for people. The great thing about Certitude’s Shared Lives team, is that they are very humble, and always open to learn and change practice, based on the advice of the panel. So, I hope what I’m bringing is being able to offer advice or opinion in a very respectful way.
My role, like any job in social care, is busy. So, before I joined the panel, it would be fair to say I was worried about whether it would be manageable alongside my normal job. I thought ‘can I commit to this?’ But actually, it’s totally manageable. The panel meetings are usually a couple of months apart and the papers will come out a week beforehand. It’s our responsibility to read through those. They’re in a package and there’s not usually more than three to consider. I normally read through and make notes of the key questions that I want to ask when it comes to the panel. I don’t think it’s anything that’s unmanageable, so long as you are able to make some time to read and carefully consider all angles of a panel assessment. Because I think if you’re just turning up at panel meetings and basing your thoughts on the interview on that day, you’re not offering a rounded perspective on the person that’s being interviewed. So yeah, I don’t think the time commitment is unreasonable at all. Plus, I’m a bit of a nerd and I quite like reading.
The panel meetings themselves are about 2 hours long. Sometimes shorter. We’re looking at various things during the meetings, including if somebody is a suitable person to become a shared lives carer or we might be reviewing safeguarding concerns. They’re important things that have a real positive impact on someone’s life. And I’m so proud of how we conduct ourselves as a panel. I really enjoy the diversity of people wanting to do the carer roles and hearing their stories and experience. It’s great to hear what motivates people.
One of the things I’m mindful of at the moment, is the lack of diversity in the panel. Many of the people that we’re interviewing for roles as carers have different cultural backgrounds, different ethnicities. And I think that we would do well to have more panel members that represent that diversity. It’s important that people feel they’re in a place of safety where peers are involved in the decision making. It’s not a unique challenge to this panel. It’s a common issue for voluntary roles, but it’s one that we’re passionate about changing.
What I would say to anyone who was thinking of joining is trust that you’ve got something to bring. Whatever your background, your gifts and strengths are valuable. I’ve been really warmly welcomed and encouraged and that’s increased my confidence. Also, you’ll be meeting with people who will offer as much to your development and learning as you’re going to be able to offer them. So, trust that you’ve got something to bring to the panel and don’t be afraid of applying.
Our Shared Lives Panel provide independent scrutiny for our Shared Lives support. People on the panel are part of the quality assurance process for new Shared Lives carers as well as the ongoing approval and de-approval of existing Shared Lives carers.
If you’d like to join Lucy and others on the panel, you can find out more about the application process here.