Geraldine needs support at home and enjoys the security of someone checking on her daily
Geraldine Freeman is a Londoner born and bred now living in Swindon. After doing voluntary work she’s getting into new hobbies – she goes to sewing classes twice a week, has a personal trainer and has even tried wheelchair yoga!
Geraldine recalls a happy London childhood, with her (widowed) mum, brother and two sisters, before going off to college in Nottingham.
“My mum was a wonderful person” she says “and when she was older and got dementia my house was the most suitable place for her to live. I cared for her for two years, but when the physical demands of looking after her got too much I called in help. I’d already arranged it for myself in the past so it wasn’t difficult to sort out. I employed two people to work with mum, and had one working with me.”
“Now with mum gone, my two sons off at University and College and my partner working away I need support, and the security of having someone checking up on me every day. I employ two Personal Assistants – one of whom is my niece – and it works very well.”
Life with Personal Assistants
“I didn’t always have a Personal Assistant” Geraldine explains, “My then husband and I were both wheelchair users and we managed pretty well – even when our first son, Charlie, was born. We worked as a team, taking specific roles in caring for Charlie, so it was easy just to manage with a cleaner.”
“Life went on and we moved to a bigger house where I became pregnant with our second son, Harry. It was then that I thought ‘how am I going to manage getting four of us up and out of the house in the morning?’ and got a Mother’s Help.”
“The experience was good and bad” Geraldine remembers, “We were paying for the Help ourselves and so were limited in what we could afford. We could only get help in the mornings – but it did make life a bit easier.
At the time I was working for the Disabled Parents Help Line and everyone said I should try and get Direct Payments to fund some support at home. I applied for them and was successful.”
“When Harry went to school it did get easier but I still needed help with the housework. My Mother’s Help retired and I wondered where I could get someone to replace her. Another mum at the boys’ school said her mother might be able to help – and Sheila came to us as our assistant for the next 13 or 14 years!”
Geraldine’s needs changed over time; “When mum was here I needed more help”, she explains “and by then my husband and I had split up. Sheila’s hours had been cut by the Direct Payment team and I asked one of mum’s assistants if she’d like to work for me direct. That worked well for a while but when Sheila retired and my PA left I was faced with having to recruit a PA from scratch. My niece had moved in with me as she was going to the same Performing Arts college as my son and her sister had moved down to be near her. She was looking for a job and I asked if she’d like to work for me. And now she’s been her for three years!”
Managing a family member as an assistant
Geraldine has not always found managing her niece easy – but not because she’s her niece.
“Managing anyone is difficult. I don’t think it’s something that comes naturally for many people”, she explains, “My partner is a solicitor and has managed people for some time – but he’s not that great either! He’s too soft, and so am I. It’s not always easy to be firm with people. In Swindon the Direct Payments team provides training for PAs but it would be great if they could provide some for us as well. I’ve had to learn from my mistakes and from bouncing ideas around with friends who also have PAs – they understand the issues.”
“Being younger, my niece is much quicker than Sheila, who was also sometimes late, she’s great. It works well because we’re both aware that I’m her employer; I just happen to be her auntie as well.”
Managing the administration
As far as the administrative side of management is concerned Geraldine has been very lucky in the support she gets from her local authority:-
“The council has a company that sorts out the wages and all the related admin”, she says, “I just have to pay my assistants.”
“The Direct Payments team keeps an eye on how things are going with two reviews a year, a financial review and an assessment. I find the assessment stressful as someone comes to my house and goes through my care plan with me. There are quite a lot of conditions and we have to be very careful how we explain things. For example, I’m not allowed to have a gardener but I can have someone to go to the cinema or theatre with me – which I don’t need because I go with my partner.
Just as going to the cinema is a hobby – so is my garden – I love to get out there, but instead of saying I want help in the garden I have to explain it as ‘having someone to work alongside me’.”
“You’re constantly worrying that they will cut the hours you’re allowed to have” Geraldine says, “They did once and someone sat in with me to help me appeal against the decision. I got more hours in the end!
I understand that reviews are very important and it’s good that they keep an eye on you – but it can get a bit overwhelming.”
Challenges and benefits
Life with Personal Assistants has been pretty straightforward for Geraldine and her family.
“The only challenges have been when assistants have said ‘Can’t you get your partner to do that’ and I have to explain that it’s not his job – or my boys’ for that matter. My advice when that happens is to think of me as being totally on my own and act accordingly. I ask for things to be done a certain way because it works for me – like when I recently asked my PA to put the logs by my open fire somewhere different to where she had put them. I wasn’t being picky, I needed them to be in a certain position so I could manage them myself.”
“It can be hard when you get a new PA and have to explain things from scratch – and also if they suddenly change how they do things; but any issues that arise from those situations are fairly minor.
You can’t really help becoming friends with your assistants – but sometimes you need a break from them, even if they’re family.”
“Having my niece as my assistant as well as another person means I always have back up and don’t get let down. It hasn’t caused any problems working with a family member – I like her youth and the fact that she is related to me.”
Advice for other beneficiaries
Geraldine heartily recommends having a Personal Assistant (or two) in your life.
“I feel secure knowing someone is coming in every day, “ she explains, “And when they’ve cleaned my floors, or blitzed my kitchen, changed my bed or done my hair, I feel so much better.”
“When I look at some beneficiaries who don’t have a PA and really wish they’d get the help they need” Geraldine comments, “My assistants really help. I drive myself to most places but it’s great to have someone to go to hospital appointments with you, or help you take parcels to the post office – there’s no need to struggle.
You can’t do it all yourself,” she says emphatically, “especially if you work. All of us beneficiaries have deteriorated more quickly in our bodies, because of the challenges we’ve faced. If I did all the housework myself I’d be exhausted, not to mention in pain. As we get older we need to save our energy for the things we really want to do, especially if we can employ someone to do the things we can’t. There’s absolutely nothing wrong in that.”
For more information, visit our Employing A Personal Assistant section.