International honour for Keynsham carer Helen

Published on: 07 Dec 2013

A Keynsham mother-of-four who has opened her own home to adults with learning disabilities to help them find their independence has received international recognition for her work. From right, Helen Hill with Michael Stealey, husband Terry with dog Millie, Dan Hext, and her son Joseph

Helen Hill has spent nearly 30 years working in care, for many years as manager of Keynsham Mencap’s Family Home in The Avenue, Keynsham, and now as a carer for Sirona’s Shared Lives scheme by providing a place to stay and offering support in her own family home.

Through the Shared Lives initiative, which is run across Bath and North East Somerset by Sirona care & health, Helen, 48, and her husband Terry, 59, along with their four sons, have helped around 18 adults with learning disabilities to develop essential life skills and play an active role in family life and their community, enabling many to move into their own homes or a shared house.

As well as those who have lived with the family, Helen and Terry also offer outreach care to others, providing days out, training, activities, and overnight stays.

Now, in recognition of her dedication to those with learning disabilities, Keynsham Lions Club has bestowed one of the organisation’s highest honours on her, the Melvin Jones Fellowship.

Helen was presented with the award by Keynsham Lions president Stephanie Louis at a special dinner earlier this year at the Fry Club.

She said the honour was a “lovely surprise”, adding: “I don’t do it for thanks – I accepted the award on behalf of myself and my husband Terry. I could not do it without him, it really is a family concern with my sons and mum and dad, who are also Shared Lives carers, all getting involved, too.

"Through the scheme we really have shared every aspect of our lives and it is so emotionally rewarding – I couldn’t see myself doing anything else. I have just the most fantastic admiration for people with learning disabilities, they really have so much to offer, they have the most wonderful traits which we really want the world to see. They are so capable, if only the funding and support was there. The main thing, we feel, is for them to be involved as members of the community.

“It’s not just about learning skills, but about being able to cope emotionally, feeling secure and well supported as part of a family.”

Helen also supports people working at the  regular Saturday Kitchen pop-up café at Keynsham’s Key Centre, which is staffed by adults with learning difficulties through the B&NES Network, and says she is proud that some members of the group have also been able to have a real impact on new developments in the town, helping to shape facilities for disabled people by meeting with the developers.

Alan Hale, vice-president of Keynsham Lions, who nominated Helen for the Melvin Jones Fellowship Award, said Helen’s name will now appear on a rolling display alongside other recipients of the honour at Lions Clubs International HQ in Illinois, in the US.

He said: “In Keynsham, we have always given the award externally to local people for their work in the community

“Helen was the catalyst for changing The Avenue [Mencap’s Family Home] into a real home for all those people – she changed it into a family home rather than lots of individuals just with a bed there. She really worked hard for those people and did so much for them.

“She has taken people under her own roof through Shared Lives and throughout all of this she has managed her own life, also working as a retained firefighter – she has done so much for adults with learning disabilities and set an example to others.

“The Lions Club was more than happy to recognise her worth to the community.”

Head of Sirona’s Shared Lives Services Jon Plechowicz added: “We are delighted for Helen that she has been recognised in this way.  Without people like her we could not provide this service which makes such a positive difference to the lives of individuals.”

Find out more at www.sirona-cic.org.uk

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