Fifty years of creating independence in Ireland
After half a century of giving people with disabilities in Ireland privacy and dignity, Cheshire Homes is looking ahead to more challenges
Mary Gaul: ‘I looked at different places to live and I chose here because it’s near shops and a pub. I go out nearly every day now whereas in the `home', they didn't have the staff to bring me out." Photograph: Cyril Byrne
Owen Mansfield: ‘I had to have a ramp built, the bathroom fitted out and a hoist put in to move me from the bath, onto the bed and to the sofa so I can sit down.’ Photograph:Eric Luke
As the Cheshire Homes celebrate their 50th anniversary in Ireland this year, the organisation is reflecting on the huge changes in ethos and approach in the past 10 years or so.
“Our reputation is to be flexible and respond to people’s needs but the thinking and language we use now has changed hugely in the past 10 years or so,” says Aoife O’Toole, vice quality manager at Cheshire Ireland.
Central to this change is the emphasis on moving people out of residential centres into supported accommodation in the community. “It’s about giving people the privacy and dignity of a home of their own, looking at their fundamental needs in life – whether it’s to be a good neighbour, to be treated as a [capable] adult and to connect with people where they live and work,” continues O’Toole.
To achieve the goal of moving everyone from so-called “congregated settings” to self-contained apartments, Cheshire Ireland has had to learn how to “unbundle” HSE funding arrangements. “It has been a tough change and a challenge. It is complex work and each person’s needs are different,” says Maggie Thomas, head of corporate services at Cheshire Ireland.
Moving people with disabilities from long-stay group accommodation to houses has been government policy since 2011.
The Cheshire team has also had to learn how to deal with each resident on their own terms. “Of the 17 people we’ve helped move out of two homes, nobody wanted to go back. We still have about 150 people in nine homes throughout Ireland. It’s a slow process dealing with individuals, families and staff,” says O’Toole.
“We don’t always get it right and we’re honest about this and clear about what we can and cannot do. But, now we know that people [with disabilities] can contribute and live in their own homes with support. After all, we’re all interdependent on each other in some ways.”
Owen Mansfield: ‘I can decide my own menu. I get up when I want to. I like my own space and time’
Owen Mansfield asks me if I mind if he smokes while we sit and chat in his self-contained ground-floor apartment in Dublin city centre.
His support worker lights his cigarette and he puffs away until it nears the stub when she removes it upon his request.
Living independently with a roster of support workers of his own choice, Mansfield is one of a new generation of people with physical disabilities who have moved from long-term residential care to living in the community.
An employee at the American Embassy in Dublin, Mansfield has met more diplomats and American presidents than most and he’s proud of his work contacts but reticent about sharing any gossip about recent visitors such as Bill Clinton, Barak and Michelle Obama and their daughters.