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Modernisation Programme

Press Release: New home of her own

Sonya MiltonKen and Doreen Milton thought they would never see their daughter Sonya move into her own home.

One of six children, she was born with learning difficulties and, until last year, the 51 year old was still living with her parents.

The biggest fear for Ken, 81, and Doreen, 77, was what would happen to Sonya when they could no longer care for her.  But thanks to an Exeter project, Sonya has been living on her own in a new one-bedroom flat since last July.

The flat is part of the ‘supported living’ scheme run by the Dove Project.

Support workers provide as little, or as much, help as each individual requires.

Housing-related support can range from managing tenancies and sorting out bills, to cooking and keeping their flat clean.

The complex of 21 flats included four two-bedroom flats – two adapted for wheelchair use – and 17 one-bed flats.  Each occupant has their own front door and can come and go as they please.

Although a support worker is available 24 hours a day, Sonya does so much herself that she does not require a lot of support and Ken and Doreen are also never far away.

Doreen said:  “We heard about the housing scheme about 14 months ago.  They had lots of people apply then the numbers were whittled down by a priority list.  People living with family carers, particularly if they were older, or those in residential care, were the two priorities.

“It seemed like wining the lottery when Sonya was on the final list.”

The moment Sonya heard the good news is one she will never forget.

“I was really excited,” said Sonya, a machinist for Pluss in Marsh Barton.

“I found out only a month before I moved in.  I was at a fairground on holiday.  I rang around everyone to tell them.”

The planning and building of the flats was made possibly by Devon County Council, through a partnership with Exeter City Council and Devon Community Housing Society (DCHS).  The Dove project is a support provider that helps tenants manage their tenancy and live independent lives.  It is commissioned through the Government’s Supporting People initiative, for which Devon County Council is the administering authority.

Supporting People provides Government money to help people live independently in their own homes.  DCHS owns the flats and is the landlord.  Devon County Council is commissioner, and Dove is the support provider.

From plans for the building, Sonya was able to choose an upstairs or downstairs flat.

The next decision was how to furnish it.

“It’s the first time she has shown a positive interest in buying something,” said Doreen.

“Until she had her own flat, Sonya had no interest in furniture at all.  When we stared buying things she knew exactly what she wanted.  Everything in her flat is her choice.

“First on her list was a leather settee:  she also knew she wanted a bed with a pullout one underneath for anyone who wanted to stay.”

Ken and Doreen spent some time preparing for the day when Sonya would finally be ready to leave home and achieve independence.  They were helped by The Nichols Centre for adults with learning disability in Exeter, and Treetops in Exwick which taught Sonya basic life skills.

“For the last few years we’ve been gradually building towards it,” said Ken.  “We’ve had a couple of holidays and left Sonya for a week or fortnight and she coped.

“After all, we are only human.  We won’t be here for ever and life goes on, so something had to be done.

“Sonya always wanted a flat.  Other things were suggested to her like living with a family, but she wanted a place of her own.

“We knew she did not need to live in a residential home, and they’re all closing down anyway.  So it became a question of looking for a suitable flat in the city.”

The Dove Project housing scheme was the perfect solution.  James Gush, Exeter services manager for the Dove Project, said:  “Knowing someone is in the building if you want them is why people living her become independent so quickly as they feel safe.”

Moving home rarely goes without some kind of hitch and Sonya’s was no different.

The bed she had ordered didn’t turn up so she slept on the floor.

“Sonya was so determined to sleep here she just got on with it,” said Doreen.  “I think she was glad to leave us!  She’s always been a bit like that:  when she was little and would get off the school bus there was always one or two crying and she could never understand why.

“Because of the nature of her problems, Sonya is childlike, but we’ve just got on with it.

“We were apprehensive at first because we wondered how she would copy with things like doing her own washing and ironing, or going shopping on her own.

“We always organise her meals so that was another issue – I had tried getting her to cook, but she was not always interested.

“But she’s taken to everything like a duck to water.  You can call in on her any time and the flat is always clean and tidy.  In fact, it’s better than how she kept her bedroom at home.

“She is much happier, more confident and more interested in things around her.”

Sonya couldn’t agree more.  “I have help with cooking, but I’m gradually improving.  I enjoy cooking and always know what I’m having for my next meal.

“The flat is the way I want it.  It’s mine and I’m proud of it.

“As soon as I come in from work a support worker comes up to say ’hello’ and check everything is Okay.

“I have had friends here and my neighbours are nice.  I’ve been to parties in a couple of the flats and I had by birthday part here.”

Doreen added:  “Initially it was a bit strange when Sonya left home.  It seemed quieter, as though something was missing.  But we are more relaxed now as we feel she’s settled.

“If we’re out with friends we don’t have to rush back to get her dinner ready.  Before, we would never go away for a weekend.  Now if we go away for a few days we can stop off and see other people on the way back.  We are freer.

“At first we visited her every day.  Now we go about once a week for a chat and pick up some shopping for her on the way.

“It’s gone better than we ever hoped.”