Live the life you choose

Matt Skinner’s blog reflects on his recent trip to PossAbilities, a social enterprise supporting vulnerable people in Rochdale.

When my Mum was put in a care home (we had very little choice or say in the matter), the decline in her health and wellbeing was fast. Looking back at pictures, the first six months in the care home Mum was able to walk. But following a broken leg having been dropped in the shower, she never walked again. A year after her admission to the home, she never left her bed. 

I remember looking at the leaflets in the care home about the activities she could take part in. Mum always said she felt like everybody else in the home was a lot older than her. She didn’t think she would enjoy carpet bowling or relate to many of the residents. The whole time she was in the care home, she never did make friends with other residents. 

The staff were always pleasant enough when we saw them, but they were overstretched and had dozens of residents with complex needs to care for. The care home was on the very edge of town, and it always struck me how difficult the walk up the hill would be for anyone who could walk themselves to the shops. 

This month, it will be three years since Mum passed away, and as I reflected on all of this, I made my way up to Manchester to visit PossAbilities‘ head office and the Cherwell Farm and Wellbeing Garden in Rochdale. PossAbilities is a social enterprise supporting vulnerable people to ‘live the life they choose’. They support people with learning disabilities, young people leaving care, and people with dementia. It’s also a phenomenal organisation.

Rachel, the inspirational leader of PossAbilities gave up three hours of her time to show us around the one acre space.  

We walked into a huge workshop full of happy people beaming to tell us about the poster they were making and looked at some of the artwork they’d made previously. We toured the farm and met the goats, pigs, ducks, parrot, fish and reptiles. We met a very proud chap who helps to clean the animal pens and a lady who visits the centre regularly to meet the animals.

We had a tour of an immersive room where you could swim in a virtual sea or learn about the mill that used to stand on the site. Rachel explained that they have recently started offering childcare locally to the wider community, the sensory room offering a cinematic experience for kids and an important service to local parents struggling with the rising costs of childcare. Local children also get to meet vulnerable adults using the centre, breaking down stigmas and normalising disability. 

Next we visited the cafe run by adults with learning disabilities and it was rammed full of people enjoying food, playing pool and meeting friends. We visited the new Teepee that the local community can hire for parties and weddings.

We met a brilliant apprentice who runs the floristry, who explained how some of the adults using the centre help with the arrangements. This mini-business is helping to bring in additional revenue to fund the brilliant work at PossAbilities, just like the cafe.

Recently Rachel and the team took over some land alongside the main building and converted it into several supported living apartments. We strolled across and met a resident called Ryan, who kindly showed us around his flat. Ryan explained he never thought he’d be able to live independently but now he does. He’s incredibly proud of his home and told us all about his photography skills. He’s also a YouTube celebrity and an excellent chef! You can listen to more about his story on the PossAbilities podcast here.  

All over the community, because that is what it is, we met people who clearly love their jobs. Having been rescued, we met several dogs who live and work at Cherwell. We met people living and enjoying their lives and being their amazing and best selves. 

Honestly, I’m still digesting the visit. I was left with lots of emotions. Rachel and her team are clearly inspirational and entrepreneurial.

At the end of the visit, I was left with an odd feeling of being a bit angry. Why is this not how we do care everywhere? Why aren’t we replicating this model across different places and communities? Clearly, with determination and passion, it’s possible to create something like this even during times of austerity – so it’s not all because of the money. We must create opportunities and conditions for local leaders like Rachel to thrive.

Thinking back on my mum’s care home experience, how different might this have been if we took the type of values and the creativity at PossAbilities and applied them to a care home? Imagine what might be different if the mantra of a care home was about ‘helping people to live the life they choose’ – how things could be different for the staff and residents.

Thank you to Rachel and everyone at PossAbilities for sharing this with Care City this week. I’ll try to take what I’ve learned here into our work.

Latest news