Today I had the privilege of visiting three people with severe learning difficulties in their new homes in Ballyclare, C. Antrim. I was joined by local DUP MLA Trevor Clarke.
These homes are within two new ‘supported living’ schemes developed by Triangle Housing Association with grant assistance from DSD. After many years in the Muckamore Abbey Hospital in Antrim, the three Triangle tenants have recently moved to their new homes in the community. Eventually each of these two accessible bungalows will be home to three residents each.
It’s a big change. Institutionalization was perhaps an inevitable result of, in some cases, decades spent in Muckamore. Some residents developed ‘challenging behaviours’, perhaps a result of trying to get help whilst living in wards with many similarly needy people. As so much was done for the Muckamore residents, they became de-skilled. For example I heard of one person who could walk but was taken everywhere in a wheelchair.
Supported living is very different. Whilst the high level of need requires that 24 hour care and support is always provided, the Triangle tenants have much more autonomy and a vastly greater quality of life. They can begin developing skills and making their own choices, such as venturing out to the shops and choosing their own food. Supported living tenants can also choose what music to listen to and what to watch on TV. Over time they may develop basic life skills such as making their own toast. Settling in to the community, they are greeted by local people in the street as they get out and about.
We met the parent of one of the residents who testified about the positive impact supported living has made in their grown-up child’s life. Whilst they had been understandably nervous about the re-settlement process, it had been a great success. Their grown-up child was calmer and happier and developing new skills thanks to the high-quality relationships with their support workers.
Providing such high-quality living for extremely vulnerable people requires significant investment. A vital part of the funding mix sustaining supported living schemes is Supporting People funding for housing related support. Such support includes a wide range of help and advice and help to make it easier for vulnerable people to maintain their independence in their home.
When you meet the people whose lives are vastly improved in Supporting People schemes, it becomes all the more important that we invest in and strengthen SP as a dedicated housing support programme. That’s the aim of our campaign.
Many thanks to Trevor Clarke MLA for generously giving up two hours to meet the supported living residents and their support workers, and to Triangle Housing Association for hosting the visit.