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How Karen Jones, Lifeways’ Head of Operational Excellence, became a pioneer of supported living

Did you know the UK’s very first supported living services began in Wales, three decades ago?

And Karen Jones, Lifeways’ Head of Operational Excellence, has had the privilege of seeing supported living grow from its earliest beginnings to become a well-reputed, effective model of support.

Let’s rewind. Before the late 1980s, the concept of supporting adults with varying needs in their own homes existed only on paper.

This meant that at the time, adults with support needs, including autism, learning disabilities, and acquired brain injuries usually lived with family or in long-stay hospitals – sometimes for their entire lives.

Not many opportunities

Back then, Karen, who had grown up and was then living in Wales, was a mental health nurse who’d worked with children and adults in long-stay secure residential facilities.

This clinical approach didn’t always sit well with Karen.

“I didn’t feel a clinical model was the right model of support for people with learning disabilities,” Karen says.

Yet there weren’t then a lot of opportunities to support people differently - as more independent settings did not yet exist.

Radical step

Then, in the 1980s, the Welsh government introduced and over the decade developed the All Wales Strategy. The strategy included a 10-year pilot to provide a range of community-based options for people with learning disabilities.

This scheme meant that people were supported to move out of long-stay hospitals and secure facilities and into their own homes.

Karen jumped at the chance to take part.

And for the next seven years, she lived and breathed the ambitious project in Wales, working as a care coordinator to support 150 adults to move into and then thrive in their own homes.

“The All Wales Strategy was a significant step - and a cornerstone for supported living because it was where the concept started,” says Karen.

“Moving people into their own homes within the community was an extremely successful pilot project - and thus, Wales saw the birth of supported living as a model of support,” she adds.

First-hand experience

In 2002, Karen became Operations Director of the Independent Living Alliance (ILA).

ILA was setting up supported living services in North West England for people with complex mental health needs – and wanted Karen’s first-hand experience of the supported living model. ILA would be acquired by Lifeways a decade later.

Then in 2015, Karen was appointed to operate all of Lifeways’ mental health services. In 2017, she joined an operations team that would become the Operational Excellence team, which Karen now heads. Nicola Forshaw, Lifeways’ Services Director, is Karen’s manager.

The Operational Excellence team consists of several Project Managers and the Specialist Support team. Working together, the Operational Excellence team supports Lifeways to achieve and exceed both regulatory standards and organisational standards.

In the blood

Nursing and support run in Karen’s blood.

“My family are all nurses,” she says. “My mum and auntie were both nurses, and there’s a long history of nursing in the family.”

And for Karen, the desire to see individuals with support needs thriving in their local communities goes back to her earliest years.

“As a child, I was brought up in a very small Welsh village,” Karen recalls. “In our village, people with learning disabilities weren’t sent away, and weren’t excluded – instead, they were part of our community.”

Distilling her advice to others looking to start careers in support, Karen emphasizes the importance of getting the basics right.

“Good quality support is everything,” she says. “knowing how to deliver good support and what good support looks like is really important.”

Marking twenty years at Lifeways in April this year, Karen’s set on her mission to help ensure each one of the nearly 5,000 people we support across 1,500 services receives extraordinary support!


About Lifeways:

Lifeways is the UK’s largest team of support professionals providing support for adults in the community.

We support adults with diverse and complex needs, including learning disabilities, autism, physical disabilities, acquired brain injuries, and mental health conditions. 

Our 11,000 colleagues currently support almost 5,000 individuals who live in our 1,500 supported living and residential services across England, Scotland, and Wales. 

Find out more about how we change people's lives at:  

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