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Social value in the collaborative economy: Shared Lives Plus

Anna McEwen is Executive Director of Support and Development at Shared Lives Plus, the UK's network for Shared Lives and Homeshare providers. Anna spoke at Nesta's recent event ShareLab: Social value in the collaborative economy

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and Shared Lives Plus?

I’ve been working in social care for around 20 years, in roles ranging from support work to managing services, and in advocacy roles and commissioning in local authorities. After setting up a Shared Lives scheme in Newham in 2008, I moved into the world of commissioning where, among other things, I was involved in the commissioning of the Shared Lives service.

What type of collaborative economy projects are you involved in, and what kind of social impact are they trying to achieve?

Shared Lives is a regulated model of care and/or support which is based on sharing home and family life with an approved Shared Lives carer. An older or disabled person who needs support either moves in to live as part of the family or visits regularly for support during the day or short breaks if they live with a family carer or independently.

Shared Lives Plus is the UK network and membership organisation for Shared Lives and Homeshare. Our members are Shared Lives carers, schemes and Homeshare schemes. We support our members with good practice guidance and information about legislation and regulation. We also raise awareness of Shared Lives at a local and national level promoting the development and diversification of the model to enable more people to receive support through Shared Lives.

Our ambition is that all older and disabled people across the UK have Shared Lives as a choice when deciding how they want to have their care and support provided. We know it’s not a model that suits everyone, but for many people it can work really well, enabling people to live a good life as part of a family within the local community.

Here’s just one story of how Shared Lives can make a difference:

Leigh, who has a learning disability, has lived with his Shared Lives carer, Sue, and her son since moving from children’s services. Leigh had very little confidence in his abilities and relied heavily on Sue for all aspects of his daily living. Sue has supported Leigh to live more independently within the family home and enjoy his hobbies. Leigh has always had a fascination with cars, it was his ambition to work with cars and drive his own someday. With Sue’s continued support and encouragement, Leigh enrolled on a motor mechanics course at college where he excelled. He’s now a confident young man who works part time at a garage and in December last year, Leigh passed his driving test after the second attempt and now drives his own car.

Shared Lives has been growing year on year in England thanks to funding we’ve received from funders including Nesta, Big Lottery, Cabinet Office, Sainsbury’s and Pears Foundation. We’re now trying to use the learning from England to scale the model across Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland where it is less well developed.

What achievement are you proudest of so far?

On a personal level, I’d say it was sitting on the BBC Breakfast sofa and managing to string some words together to talk about Shared Lives.

I’m really proud of the work that has happened in Scotland over the last couple of years where we are now starting to get some real traction with health and social care partnerships.  

A lot of the work is down to relationship building and offering solutions to the problems and challenges that health and social care are facing. I’ve had to learn a whole new system and process in Scotland which is different to England so that I can be credible in those conversations. That’s meant a lot of time spent up in Scotland but it’s paying off and we’re seeing some real development taking off which is really exciting.

What are the biggest challenges you have faced?

The biggest challenge is scaling a model that we know has huge potential and having to take a slightly different approach in each country. Securing funding for work outside of England has also proved challenging.

Maintaining the quality and uniqueness of Shared Lives while also trying to scale quickly is another challenge. Austerity and the cuts within local authorities mean that commissioners are trying to cut costs of services across the board, even when services like Shared Lives are already really cost effective when compared with other services. This means trying to shave off quality and all that is good and special about the model. Our role is to work with commissioners here to ensure that expectations are realistic for the service and that quality is maintained.

What would be your advice for other people and organisations thinking about setting up initiatives like Shared Lives Plus?  

Our team approach in England has worked well and we’ve seen success where we have a joined-up approach supporting schemes, local authorities, CCGs at both strategic and delivery level.

One person cannot do all of this and so it has been important to have a range of expertise within the organisation to lead in different areas.  

Relationship building is also key to developing the initiative – relationships with everyone from government ministers, civil servants, directors and commissioners within local authorities and CCGs, social workers, families and most importantly people using Shared Lives.

How do you think government and policy could help support the socially-oriented collaborative economy?

Government support is essential to building this economy and taking it from something that is ‘nice to have’ to ‘this is how we do things in the UK’. There are some fantastic initiatives out there operating on a small to medium scale, offering all sorts of community-based solutions that enable people to live real lives in the way that we all want to do.

But these need to become the mainstream, go-to options. This entails a shift from the institutional model of care and support that is the current go-to. I think this needs to be led by the government in a whole system shift for health and social care.

What’s next for Shared Lives Plus?

We have an exciting new programme working with NHS England to develop Shared Lives as a healthcare solution and we’ve also just recruited workers in Scotland and Northern Ireland to develop the model further there. We’re constantly exploring new opportunities to raise awareness and support the development of Shared Lives towards our aim that Shared Lives becomes a choice for anyone who needs care and/or support across the UK. 


Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Matt Stokes

Senior Researcher, Government Innovation

Matt was a senior researcher working on the collaborative economy and digital social innovation.

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