Connor’s Success Story – Strawberry Fields
It’s a year since supported individual Connor started his new life at Strawberry Fields, our residential service for adults in the village of Wick, West Sussex. That has proved ideal for his transition, at the age of 18, from children’s services to more independent living as an adult.
Chris Woolgar, Service Manager at Strawberry Fields, said, “Connor had a couple of earlier placements before he moved here, where he’s responded really well because he knows we recognise he’s now an adult and treat him as an individual who can be completely independent if he wants to be, with freedom to live his life in the way he wants to. He doesn’t like to be spoken to differently, or to be treated as someone with learning difficulties, or any sort of impairment at all.”
Before Connor came to Strawberry Fields, he lived at what he describes as “a temporary place” in Liphook, Hampshire and “a temporary place” on Dartmoor, and before those placements he had lived in Crawley.
“We first met at the house Connor was living in; he was wearing his rugby kit and we went for a walk down to the local rugby field along with his social worker and we all had a chat, just walking and talking together”, recalls Chris.
Connor was invited to make lots of visits to Strawberry Fields before deciding to move into one of the self-contained flats at the service. He had the opportunity to ask to visit whenever he wished and look around everywhere, getting ideas about how he wanted his new accommodation to look, and how he could personalise it to his taste. Key people from the support team worked with him on transition arrangements, and he bonded with them over measuring-up the rooms, deciding on the colours he wanted to paint the walls, planning where furniture would go, and arrangements for moving-in his belongings.
At that stage, we also did a lot of liaison with his family and the staff in his previous care setting,” adds Chris. “Our team visited and spent time with him in his previous service and liaised closely with Connor’s family and carers and with his social worker, who was looking after him as he transitioned from being supported by Children’s Services to Adult Social Care.”
Before he made the move, the colleagues working at Strawberry Fields joined Connor and the support team from the placement where he was living, to celebrate his birthday at an Air Softing session. This is a team game in which participants eliminate opposing players by tagging them out of play with spherical plastic projectiles shot with mock weapons called airsoft guns. Although the competition with these ‘imitation firearms’ was fierce, it proved a great way to build a relationship between the two teams, so they could work together to make Connor’s transition to his new life as smooth as possible.
Strawberry Fields underwent a full refurbishment in 2020, with new adaptations to meet local need and to offer support to people like Connor who want to have a greater level of independence over their lives and who are happier living in their own space. There are three self-contained flats, created to offer independence, choice and control for individuals with complex needs. There are also five separate en-suite bedrooms in the main house for those who need a dedicated level of support, a low sensory dining room as well as quiet areas, an enclosed courtyard garden and the surrounding grounds. Individuals are encouraged to gain greater confidence with everyday tasks, social activities and events.
“It really suits him,” says Chris. “He has his own flat on the ground floor with its own access, that he’s painted and decorated – he’s very ‘hands-on’. Connor can stay in – he loves TikTok and spends hours on it – or go out by himself or with someone else if he wants to. He’s funded for 10 hours of one-to-one care each day but also likes to be on his own – while knowing that our support is around him any time he needs it, 24/7. In his previous placement, the carers would leave him to it when he wanted to be alone, whereas here it’s important that he knows he can ‘jump back in’ for support at any time.
“The grounds and the situation of Strawberry Fields also ‘sold it’ to him – he likes the countryside we have all around us, and that’s one of the reasons he wanted to be here.”
Since moving in, Connor has joined the local rugby club Littlehampton RUFC where he plays and also goes to home and away matches. He describes his playing position on the field as “Wherever I get put on the day – depends on who else turns up or who’s injured”. He also carries on his family’s tradition of supporting the Premiership Rugby team Wasps, who play in England’s top division, although Connor comments, “They used to be one of the best teams in the country but they’re not doing so well these days…”
He’s exploring his artistic side in addition to his sporting prowess, not only with interior design but also through trying out volunteering opportunities with local gardeners and a blacksmithing course at a local college.
He’s a huge fan of heavy metal music but being able to go and see his favourite bands was something Connor hadn’t done before. He has really enjoyed the opportunity of going to festivals and gigs over the past year, heading as far afield as Derbyshire to be at ‘Bloodstock’ last autumn. Heavy metal heroes Cradle of Filth, Bullet for My Valentine, Sabaton, Lorna Shore and Five Finger Death Punch are reflected in his collection of band T-shirts.
There were also more travels, going on holiday with a friend to Edinburgh and Chris explains, “We risk assessed it with him and provided all the information they would need during their visit, to make sure he would be safe. He came back in one piece which, in my books, is a win for any 18-year-old.”
“Being here, he has the freedom to be an adult and to enjoy all his interests,” explains Chris. “He wants and needs to make those decisions for himself and we are there to try to support and guide him in the right way. We say, ‘Whether or not it’s the right decision is down to you, so long as you’ll be prepared to live with the consequences if you’ve done something silly!’
“If he has any upsets or times when he displays challenging behaviours, we can tell that he’s remorseful afterwards even if he doesn’t specifically say ‘Sorry’. These things happen. He’s 18, he’s young, he’s still trying to find his own way of doing things and express himself.
“His Mum has said that as soon as he did something deemed as ‘bad’ in his other placements, he was made to feel that his placement was at risk. The difference now is that we expect there will be issues from time to time, and support Connor through them. That’s what we’re here for. We treat him as an adult, and he’s responded to that really well. We’re all proud of him.”
What does Connor particularly like now he’s settled into his new home? “The location is all right,” he says at once, “Although it would be nice if we were a bit closer to the sea.” Connor loves nature and wildernesses, and Strawberry Fields has its own transport to take him to the nearby coast. The West Beach at Littlehampton is one of his favourite spots – it’s very quiet and picturesque, with sand dunes and very few other visitors usually, even in the summer, apart from wildlife and dog-walkers.
“My flat is all right too, I’ve done quite a bit of work on it myself – painted all the walls, put up my posters and things that interest me. I’ve got display cases – one with Soviet era stuff and the other has a whisky collection on show, that I got when I went to Edinburgh with my mate. That was a really nice place and the people there are really nice as well. We didn’t just see the city – we drove around and went to the Highlands.”
“When Connor came back from his holiday, he told us he’d brought a Highland cow with him,” said Chris. “I had visions that there was an actual cow in his flat, forgetting that he’s such a joker. But I wouldn’t have put it past him to do that either!”
At Strawberry Fields, Connor has made friends with a little cat that regularly turns up outside, who he’s named ‘Tail-less’ because that appendage is missing. ‘Tail-less’ knows that food and plenty of attention can be found during a visit to Connor’s flat, and so always comes to see him although it won’t approach anyone else.
Connor is also a tattoo aficionado with five designs already ‘inked’ and plans for many more to come. “Everything from my neck down eventually,” he explains. “I’ve just had a new one done recently. Three of the tattoos I’ve got were planned, I knew the designs I wanted. The other two are just random – I had them done on the spur of the moment, one when I just rocked up at the tattooist and the other when I was at ‘Bloodstock’. I have thought about maybe getting a tattoo of ‘Tail-less’ done.”
He’s looking forward to going to the England v. Ireland rugby international with his Dad, during this year’s Six Nations tournament, and to top-flight club matches at Wasps and Harlequins. “Getting tickets for these games is one of the benefits of being a rugby club member,” advises Connor. “It’s a great atmosphere when we’re in the crowd”.
He is also already booked-in to go to the ‘Download’ festival in June and this year’s ‘Bloodstock’ in August, so no doubt there will be a few new additions to his collection of heavy metal memorabilia, band T-shirts and posters.