I left home at an early age, or at least I thought so. I was in my 2nd year of A-levels when my dad suggested that I find a place to live. I was left with mixed emotions of excitement and fear. What did I know about living alone, how would I cope? I am a wheelchair user, and I lived with my parents in a bungalow, it was my home, and they had modified and adapted it for me.
Never one to give up on a challenge, I thought I would go for this, and set about finding out about moving out.
With the support of the Head of 6th form at school, I completed an application for housing. John Grooms Housing Association offered me a purpose-built ground floor flat. This all happened really quickly. The flat was empty, without any of the utilities turned on, and it was 15 miles away from my family home.
15 miles seemed like the other side of the country to me. I hadn’t really travelled a great deal, having gone to school nearby. I had also largely been confined to the area where I lived with my parents and two brothers. Public transport wasn’t very public then. I learnt to drive and moved in to the flat. This early independence while scary at the time benefitted me later on.
When I started my first job, being in a social rented flat meant that I could afford the rent, and it was the start of my future. I had a base, it became my home. I built friendships, relationships and established myself in a new community away from where I grew up.
My flat, my home became an extension of my identity, my personality. It is after all something we all aspire to right? But for so many disabled people, finding suitable, affordable place to live is difficult and often impossible. The options open to my non-disabled friends like renting a room, or sharing a house together just wasn’t available to me. Most private rented accommodation isn’t accessible, making changes are not possible. I didn’t realise at the time the value of social rented housing, but grew to realise its importance, as part of the mix of housing.
The lack of affordable, accessible housing means for me, and other disabled people, a limit on our choice of where we want to live, work and build our future. I have been in my home now for over 25 years. Why? Because moving is difficult, the options and availability of suitable housing is limited. We have to do better, our society benefits when we all play a part. Housing is the base that we build from, and a home that adapts as our needs change is a place where families grow.