I was watching breakfast TV the other morning and there was a piece about older people in residential care homes. The care home had been doing some work around helping their residents to do more activities, have a better social life and make new friends. The research (in a nutshell) showed that people’s mental and physical health had improved. They were happier and healthier if they were kept occupied, did social activities and had friends….

I shouted at the Telly… (I do this a lot!)


This was promptly followed by a …”Who pays people to do this research? Isn’t this just common sense?  These people are not aliens who have just landed on the planet. They are human beings…they just got older!”  …rant! (I really must stop talking to myself!)

It was a timely report really because I’ve been thinking quite a bit about friendship recently. It’s come up frequently at work in the past week or so…and not surprisingly, given the year I’ve had, it’s been in my thoughts a lot the rest of the time too

The fact is friends are important to all of us and life would be very unhappy and very lonely without them.

I consider myself really lucky to have so many good friends.  I have friends from many different parts of my life and have always believed that if we’re lucky we take a handful with us at each stage of our lives.  I’m still in touch with friends I grew up with, played in the street with as a kid (yes, we did that in the 60’s and 70’s), friends I went to school and college with and friends I met on holiday with my parents (The ease of social media has meant I’ve been able to reconnect with many of them). I have friends who I met when I had my kids. We met at baby and toddler groups and saw each other through the stress and joys of early motherhood. Others who I met here when my kids were at the local school and some I met in the local pub. There are friends I met through G (“Life Raft” friends and others) and Bob’s friends, who became my good friends over the 30 or so years we were together. I have friends I met through work too. They may not all know each other and may never meet each other, but they all add to the colour of my life and enrich it in different ways.

I thought about this a lot when G was about to leave the school he’d been at for 13 years and move to another one too.

G is a sociable chap, he loved going to school and the best thing about school was the people. He greeted his friends, teachers and learning support staff regularly like long lost friends, even though he may have only seen them yesterday. With his impending move, all those people, friends and staff who he’d seen almost every day for as long as he could remember were just about to disappear from his life. How horrible would that be for him? And, what a contrast to his sisters, who like me, could choose who to stay in touch with and do it easily.

So, what to do?

We’d already done some person centred planning with G and along with all the other people who knew and loved him, we decided that one of the things that was really important to him was to be around people and have a good social life.

So, we put together a relationship circle (a person centred thinking tool) to ensure that we logged all the people who were important to him and who it was important for him to stay connected to. It included family and his close friends from school, like C, M and J, along with others like E and O. It also included people like “Bob the Bus” the rather hairy, old, scruffy bus driver who took him to school every day (a strange choice perhaps, but G adored him and we were doing this from his perspective after all!)

We’ve made an effort over the years to make sure that his friends C and J (from school) get invited to Birthday parties and celebrations. We included friends like O and E when we looked at who he might to live with (and they now do) and we made sure that our old friends (and their children who he’d grown up with) got to catch up with him at Christmas/Boxing day celebrations. I also set him up with his own Facebook page so important people, family, his friends, family friends and ex staff could keep connected with him, see what was going on with his life and visa versa.

 For his 21st Birthday party we invited lots of his old teachers and friends from his old school, our friends from the village and lots of other people who were important to him. We could tell from his reaction how happy he was to see them, even though he hadn’t seen some of them for years! We could tell by how they greeted him how much they loved seeing him too.

Unfortunately, still, so many of the things we all take for granted are denied to people like G and the reality for many people with learning disabilities is that the only people in their lives are paid staff or family (if they are lucky to still have their family involved, which sadly isn’t always the case). This is because, people with learning disabilities depend totally on others to ensure they stay connected to the important people in their lives, go out and make new friends and sadly, this doesn’t always happen.

But why?

Well, I think there are a number of reasons…

There’s something about the use of the word “care” that takes away from empowering people and supporting them to live the life they chose. People being cared for, being healthy and safe is of course important but as important is the other stuff, the stuff that makes for an ordinary life like having friends,  going out and having fun…people are so busy “caring” they lose sight of this.


Families aren’t always involved as they should be, the history gets forgotten or lost because no has bothered to ask or it wasn’t logged, written down and passed on.


People like G (and other people who get social care) are at the mercy of systems, processes and services and those trained to work with them get so stuck on processes they stop seeing the person at the centre and don’t see the people they are supporting as being the same as everyone else. And, if you don’t see others as the same as see yourself you treat them differently. They get so wrapped up in what the system says they should do and don’t stop and think “how would I feel if this was me?”

So let’s do this now…

Imagine what it would be like to have no friends. Imagine if the only people in your life were family or people who are paid to support you. Imagine if you were unable to make friends, or keep them because you depended on other people to take you places you could meet them.  Imagine if you couldn’t pick up the phone to call or text them, you couldn’t use social media either. Imagine if you couldn’t tell those people supporting you that you’d really like to see, John, Jack or Jenny….you liked them and used to see them a lot at the club you used to go to but the support worker who used to take you has left now and, you don’t see him anymore and because no one else knows you used to go there you don’t see them either…and you miss them.  Imagine how that would make you feel…

Thinking about how others feel, from their perspective….putting yourself in their shoes is what person centred thinking is all about. The tools may provide the method and a process which makes this easier but the thinking is the key. It’s what all social care support should be about, whoever the person is and whatever their needs or ability.

It’s pretty basic, human stuff really, so let’s focus on the basics. I’m convinced if we do that then everything else should fall into place.



guy and olivia

About Oxfordshire Family Support Network

Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OxFSN) is a not-for-profit organisation run by and for family carers of people with learning disabilities – both children and adults. Oxfordshire Family Support Network (OXFSN) was set up in 2007 by family carers who wanted to use their experience to help others in the same situation, based on our belief that family carers are experts by their lived experience.
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5 Responses to Friendship

  1. Magi says:

    Were currently ‘in transit’ into adult services. There is a high probability my son’s care package will be health funded, which seems to trump any social needs he has. The PCP transition project Is no longer funded so trying to get the transition meeting person centered is a huge task. Friendship and peer company is first and foremost top of my list but without any adequate provision for our kids with health needs, I am for the first time in utter despair.

  2. Mena Remedios says:

    Thank you Gail for your posting on friendship. I cried when I read it. I thought of my son J who has very few friends to chat to. Yes he has us – his mum and dad. But I worry for the time when we are no longer there and J would have no one to ring up and chat to. This half term I am going to help him draw up a relationship circle, to help him see that there are other people in his life. I’d also love to set up a Facebook page for him, but do not have a clue how to do this.

    • emptynestmum says:

      I’m really glad you’re going to do a relationship circle Mena. I suggest you get someone you know, who knows their way around Face Book to help you. you need to be careful and check you have the right privacy settings etc.

  3. jennywalkabout says:

    Lovely piece, lovely ideas. Thoughts and feelings of so many here in print! R too is a very social person, but I have hesitated over setting him up with a Facebook page …. Fears arising from memories of my days as a reception class teacher – what we learned about home life in Monday morning news time!! Telling it how it is could land him in big trouble- tact isn’t one of his strong points! Lost count of number of times he comments ‘filthy habit’ as we pass a smoker in the street… Xx

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