Liz: My name is Liz and I live with my partner Jeremy on the beautiful island of Lismore, situated between Oban and Fort William, with a population of 190 people. I was born with very short arms due to the drug Thalidomide which my mother took in early pregnancy to prevent morning sickness, when she was expecting me. No one at that time (early 1960s) knew the damage it was going to cause. Until 11 years ago I had a good career in conservation at local, national and EU level. I loved my job and worked hard – too hard as it turns out. I admit that I ignored the early warning signs that my body was not keeping up with the demands I was placing on it and as a result I began experiencing severe pain in my back, neck and arms and was losing the function of my arms. I suffered a very low period of physical and mental ill health and it took some years for me to recover. I had never liked the word ‘help’ and always felt that I could do everything I needed to do without help. However, I feel that the support I now receive from my PA Julia, which I control and manage, is actually quite a good thing!
Julia: (PA) I have lived on Lismore for over a year now and 3 years in Scotland, although I come from the Baltic region of Germany. I trained for three years in Hamburg to become a commercial photographer, but after I completed my apprenticeship I did not enjoy the nature of the industry, which is very much about just making rich people richer! My ambition was to use my skills more creatively and support smaller businesses. Once settled here on Lismore I wanted to contribute to the island community and I got to know Liz through our mutual interests. We are both members of the island choir and also the Lismore Community Trust Energy Group which explores ways of developing alternative sustainable energy sources for the island. Earlier this year Liz approached me and asked if I would consider working for her as a PA. I had no background in this type of work, but I was really chuffed that she considered me to be skilled and trustworthy enough to work with her in her home and I was delighted to accept. As well as working for Liz I manage a holiday let on the island, photograph a local craft company’s products for their online gift shop and make films, for example about community projects and sustainable farming. You have to do a bit of everything when living on an island and I am pleased to be able to do such varied work.
Liz: My period of illness hit me hard as I am so used to just ‘getting on with things’. Once I recovered a bit I was bored. I had accepted that I would not be able to return to work, but with support I could still manage around the house and pursue the activities that interest me. This is what led me to consider Self-directed Support. Despite my previous managerial experience I was very nervous about becoming an employer, but fortunately I had support with recruitment when employing my first PA. I was much more confident by the time I came to employ Julia.
Julia: I would say my work is a combination of undertaking some tasks for Liz and others with her. I do the day to day tasks around the house that Liz can’t manage, prepare meals, bake and I enjoy organising the house to make things more accessible. Liz loves the garden and we tend it together. She also likes making jams and chutneys so we go round the island collecting elderflowers and other natural ingredients. Sometimes I feel bad that I get paid because it feels more like just helping a friend and I share so many of Liz’s interests, but perhaps it is this compatibility that makes it work. I also like the atmosphere in the house as Liz is such good company. My work is mainly on the island, but I would be happy to travel with Liz if required.
Liz: I will email or message Julia to let her know what I want to do the following week so that, for example, she can wear the appropriate clothes if we are going to work outside. We are also planning some longer term projects related to the seasons. Julia has other commitments that require an occasional change of hours, but in turn she is happy to change her hours to suit me if I have something specific to do. I do enjoy having a young person around the house and hearing about her views and perspective on life. Julia contributes to my life, to this island community and to the Scottish economy as do so many young people from the EU and further afield who come to make their home here. I worry that in the future those valuable skills and talents might be lost. I have one other PA, Andy, who I employ on an occasional basis so that I can go out to sea in my canoe. I have two single person canoes and one two person canoe which are all propelled using foot-pedals. Andy accompanies me as I have been strongly advised by everyone not to go out on my own. I prefer the single canoe, partly for the independence it offers and partly because I am not always convinced that Andy works as hard as he should on the pedals when we are in the two person canoe – he thinks I don’t notice! I do still get a bit frustrated at times that I am not as active as I used to be. There was a long period where I felt my life had ‘contracted’, however, now I feel that it is expanding again. I really value the support that I receive and the fact that I am in control.
Julia: The human relationship is so important too. If you click with the person it makes all the difference.