In 2005 our 16 year old daughter began to tell us that when she was older she would move out of home, move to the nearby city of Brighton and live in a house with her friends. What she wanted was such a simple thing and quite normal for any young person reaching adulthood. There was one difference, our daughter had a learning disability and needed 24 hour support.
At that time we were ourselves planning for her future. This was very frightening. Social Services had offered some advice which was to put our daughter on a waiting list for a council home. She could then apply for the money to cover the cost of her required support. We knew that she would live alone and a carer would visit once or twice a day. This would never give her a quality of life. Our daughter needed friends around her and someone about: to keep her safe, encourage and help her where needed. The other choice was that she could move in to a care home, or into supported living. We searched and searched but found nothing. Everything was too clinical or did not seem quite right. More importantly our daughter did not like any she saw. She was looking for a place to call her home.
We began to see that we had to create something ourselves. Our reason for SmallOpportunities was not only our daughter, but also the people we knew that had a learning disability, and those around the country becoming adults with a learning disability. We wanted to offer a place that was home and a lifestyle like most people have. Hopefully others would copy what we have done.
Such a simple idea and with no money to help us (but made up for by our drive and passion) we began our work building something simple. We took advice where we could and planned.
How we did it is a very long story but here is the shorter version. It was very hard to get there to say the least! In August 2005 we set out a simple plan. We needed five ingredients: a group of friends, a house, an income for the housemates to pay for day to day things, funds to pay for the care and some staff to provide the care. Those are the main ingredients. What made it great was that those were readily available. We had found four friends who wanted to live with each other. Each person was entitled to state disability related welfare benefit payments with which to pay for food, bills etc. A house was easily found. This can be rented or if lucky enough purchased. We rent at the moment (though it would be lovely to buy one). We had recruited our initial staff from a pool of very naturally skilled people we had already worked with in our careers within the field of learning disabilities. The next stage was the funding. At the time the trend was funding for care to be controlled by those who need care and their representatives such as parents/family. New directives and guidelines were set up to make it law that this should be offered to all applicants for care funding. This was where a simple idea met it’s biggest hurdle. Our proposed service was new and had no previous form for the authorities to judge it by. We, and the parents of the other potential new housemates who wanted to move in to the house with Hilly, knew it was sound and our related experience solid enough for a realistic go at making this work. We only met the serious challenges from the public organisations that controlled the funding and the purposeful barriers placed to hinder our progress. Unbeknown to our then adversaries we were too dogged to fold and would not give up and go away. Our first set of funding for our daughter was refused at the monthly budget allocation meetings. This happened seven times. We went to the brink financially but at the eleventh hour the funding was granted albeit because we got our local Member of Parliament involved. They wrote a letter acting on our behalf. Subsequently all other funding was granted. Since then I have learnt an awful lot more about the rules and regulations surrounding funding and the rights of people with learning disabilities.
We got there of course and in November 2007 our daughter moved into her new house, with her friends, in Brighton.
Here we are today still providing support to a very happy bunch of friends who have the same opportunities and a life just like anyone the same age. Since then their group of friends has grown and so too the number of people we support.
There are a lot more staff at SmallOpportunities now of course; people we have carefully picked through a rigorous selection process. Everyone we support and those who already work for us are included in selecting staff. Providing care simply means “caring”. Its what we, and all the staff who work for us, do with passion and professionalism.
We are more than happy to share our experiences and knowledge gained over the years for any reason that may benefit someone with a learning disability or their family. Please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have.