What we do
“Moving in together was one of the best decisions we ever made.” This is how Neval and Mark still describe their relationship after 10 years of living together.
Neval had been living on her own and getting daily support from her staff but sometimes her loneliness made her cry. Mark was also living alone following the death of his first wife. They had met and formed a close friendship at a day service for people with learning disabilities. Mark said he did not expect to find love again after losing his wife. Neval in her own words had been ‘put off a bit’ after bad experiences with previous boyfriends.
Although they were very much in love, at the beginning Neval and Mark couldn’t spend much time together. They lived far from each other and Neval doesn’t travel alone. So, their relationship could not really progress. These types of barriers can easily happen for people with learning disabilities – having a relationship can rely on getting the right support from your staff.
Neval’s keyworker realised Neval wasn’t happy and raised the possibility of the couple living together. After some discussion they decided that this was what they wanted to do. Neval’s staff worked hard offering emotional and practical support to help her with the move into Mark’s flat in 2006.
In the same way as any other couple, Neval and Mark didn’t know if their new relationship was going to survive. But the move proved successful for them both. They still live together today as loving partners and have left their loneliness behind them.
While Mark receives support from another organisation, Neval gets 18 hours support a week from Choice Support. We believe that everyone has the right to have love and a range of relationships in their lives, with partners, family and friends. But it’s challenging, because although relationships can be wonderful, enriching and life-enhancing, they are also sometimes difficult, painful and even abusive.
We recognise our responsibility in this and both Neval and her staff can access our relationship training if they need it. Neval confides in some members of her staff, we raise any concerns we may have with Mark’s supporters, so the couple are supported through the highs and lows of their emotional relationship. They also get help with their everyday chores such as paying bills, completing forms, cooking, shopping, cleaning, personal care, housing issues and making and attending appointments. This enables them to remain living together independently.
Life at home is typical of many couples. Neval enjoys cooking for Mark and takes pride in making sure he eats well. Mark, once a boxer, is physically strong and helps carry home shopping and doing work around the home. They both say how much they enjoy spending time with their extended families, including many nieces and nephews. Their families respect their relationship, don’t interfere with it and give them the space they need as a couple.
Leading a full and happy life means different things to different people. But to many people their closest relationships, love for family, partner and their friends are some of the most important things in their lives.
We aim to support people to lead full lives of their own choosing and maintain good relationships with people you want to be with. There are as many ways to do this as there are different kinds of people. It could involve joining clubs or trying new activities. Making new friends and finding a partner can start with shared interests.
We funded our Quality Analyst Dr Claire Bates to complete a doctorate researching why it is that forming and maintaining relationships is so hard for people with learning disabilities. She found that in many situations it was good staff support that made the difference.
Supported Loving is our response to these findings. It started as a social media campaign in February 2017 but has grown into a national network that supports people with learning disabilities and other providers. We get together every three months and do a lot of work about sharing good practice, problem solving and research findings.
You can find out more about Supported Loving below.
“Many people are still not recognising and accepting that people with learning disabilities, like anyone else, want and need personal and sexual relationships.” Valuing People Now