A PROJECT which helps adults with learning disabilities by matching them with a support family hopes to find more caring homes as the country emerges from Covid.

Shared Lives East Lothian supports adults with learning disabilities by matching them with a family or individual where care and support is provided within people’s own homes.

And as it marks Shared Lives Week this week, its East Lothian team is appealing to anyone who can open up their lives to open up their lives to someone either on a day support, short break or permanent basis to get in touch.

Leading the charge is the project’s Scottish ambassador Abby Farrell, whose life has been transformed by the support she found with her family after moving to the county more than 13 years ago.

Abby is one of only two Scottish Ambassadors supported by Shared Lives Plus, which is an umbrella organisation supporting services across the UK and has spoken to the Scottish Parliament about Shared Lives, as well as taking part in online discussions as she represents the project.

Abby, who works in Oxfam in Haddington, moved in with Louise and Andrew Kennedy, who live in Dunbar, when she was 19.

Now 32, Abby credits her Shared Lives family with giving her the confidence to grow and lead a more independent life.

She said: “I have always felt living with Louise and Andrew that it is my home and it is where I feel really safe.

“It has helped my confidence and I’ve learned new day-to-day skills.”

Abby, whose family includes their pet dogs, features on the front of the Shared Lives East Lothian promotional brochures and says Louise and Andrew help her when it comes to thinking things through and decision-making.

East Lothian Courier: Abby and her Shared Lives family feature in Shared Lives East Lothian leaflet (picture designed by Rachel Marshall, Bonzo Art)Abby and her Shared Lives family feature in Shared Lives East Lothian leaflet (picture designed by Rachel Marshall, Bonzo Art)

For their part, Louise and Andrew, who were both respite carers when Abby came into their lives, are incredibly proud of the achievement she has made.

Louise said: “Shared Lives does exactly what it says on the tin, it’s ‘sharing lives‘. However, it runs much deeper than that.

“Neither of us had any experience of parenthood, and all of a sudden we had a lively 19-year-old in our lives. It was a learning experience for us all.

“Weirdly there seemed to be no process of adjustment. It was like Abby had been here forever, we just fitted together with the greatest of ease.

“I’m not saying we’re the Waltons, we have had bumps along the way, like any family, but we work as a team.

“We’re so proud of the woman Abby has become. She has the biggest heart.

“She says she feels lucky because she has two families. In our heart of hearts, we feel so lucky and blessed to have Abby in our lives.”

Shared Lives currently has around a dozen agreements with families who provide support and most are long-term stays.

However, the project is open to people who want to offer a range of commitments to adults in need of additional support.

Louise Robertson, from the Shared Lives East Lothian, says people do not need a carer background and she hopes that more individuals and families and who would like to share family and community life to consider joining the Shared Lives in the wake of the last extraordinary 18 months.

She said: “It feels like a lot of people have become more socially aware and community aware and people are getting more used to working from home.

“Shared Lives arrangements would allow individuals to become self-employed and work in a flexible and rewarding way from their own homes.”

To find out more about Shared Lives Plus, go to www.eastlothian.gov.uk/sharedlives

Anyone interested can also contact Louise on 01620 827280 or email sharedlives@eastlothian.gov.uk