I left the nursing profession to become a mother in 1980 and began working taking care of an elderly couple, forming a bond that lasted for three years until they sadly passed. After that I worked in a variety of part-time nursing roles until the birth of my daughter, Katie, who has difficult epilepsy.
Most people with epilepsy have no associated health problems. If they have the right medication to control their epilepsy symptoms they can live a totally normal life. But for some people with epilepsy the condition comes with learning difficulties and other problems that mean they need special support.
When I looked around for that support, though, it didn’t seem to be there. The story of Friends Together begins on the day I realized there was no-one available that was up to the job of supporting my daughter appropriately.
I began looking after Katie myself and soon started running a group for people with similar problems, and their parents and carers. Right from day one, I wanted it to be different from the daycare centres and care homes I’d seen: I wanted to offer care and activities in a way that was person-centred, individualistic, and that involved the student right from the start.
We think the results speak for themselves. Friends Together has craft groups making pieces that visitors are shocked to learn come from our students. They’re that good. We have a bowling team who assembled themselves, bought all their own equipment and put in the hours of practice to become really good.
At Friends Together, we believe in individual responsibility and our autonomy means we can make decisions at the ‘speed of life.’ For instance, not long ago a group was on its way to a prearranged cinema trip, and then to go bowling. It was one group member’s birthday, though, and the group decided we should go for a meal to celebrate instead. We had to make a couple of phone calls, but it didn’t take a committee meeting, and it shouldn’t. That decision was just what any group of friends might do, and that’s the way it should be.
Founded by Christine & James Buckley, a mother & son team.
Friends Together is a small company that provides support for people who need some extra help with many aspects of day to day life .
We believe our customers deserve the best service possible for their money and we aim to provide a service of the highest standard .
We exist to support our students , customers and their family’s in their aims—not ours.
Growing up with my sister Katie, who has profound learning difficulties and epilepsy, I’ve seen and taken part in the struggles that go with that. I’m also stepfather to a boy who’s on the autistic spectrum, though he’s high-functioning, for 13 years. I’ve been where parents are and I’ve seen my family members struggle to find appropriate support that didn’t hold them back.
I’ve worked with children and young adults with a range of special needs, including learning, behavioural, educational, physical and sensory impairments following an NVQ level 3 in Playwork. For the last four years, I’ve been studying business management at Sheffield University; before that, I managed a gardening project for Sheffield Mencap for a year.
Back in 2008, I began working for a domiciliary care agency, and took on the role of my sister Katie’s Personal Assistant. I supported her in managing her budget and assisted her in activities, but the choices and ideas were Katie’s.
That’s where my inspiration for what I do at Friends Together comes from: I saw what happened for my sister when she became a customer. I saw first-hand how having her own personal budget gave Katie a sense of her own life.
As she settled into the driving seat, Katie began to achieve things we’d been told she’d never be able to do. Katie began planning cycling trips for herself with my help. She started gardening, and developed such a keen interest in it that she now has her own allotment, which she manages herself. The young woman who left school unable to read, teaches at a reading group at Friends Together now.
That’s the kind of outcome I want for every customer who uses Friends Together’s managed PA service. Supporting people to set and reach their own goals is what we exist to achieve. A personal relationship with an individual PA allows true trust and knowledge to build. We don’t believe you can get that when you’re supported by seven different people in a week.
Our PAs and customers grow together, and the services the PA provides can be tailored to the customer’s wants and needs. Just like Christine says, it’s about ‘moving at the speed of life,’ responding to customers’ differing personalities and changing circumstances without having to refer to an unwieldy bureaucracy.