And let us consider how we may encourage one another to love and do good deeds….Hebrews 10: 24
On Valentines, we are reminded about love – how and whom we love. Staff across our services are in a unique position to not only demonstrate acts of love and kindness every day. They also have the ability to support connection and the love that can grow from it. Over 100 miles apart in two different areas, Livability Osset House, West Yorkshire and Peterborough, Ness and Stevie, met on holiday and fell in love. Read their love story below and how with the support of staff why their love has been able to grow despite the barriers.
Long-distance relationships can be challenging for any couple. Add in the barriers that disabled people can face with transport, health and finance, and keeping a romantic relationship alive can be tricky.
Ossett resident Ness and Stevie, both wheelchair users, met on New Year’s Eve at a holiday centre 11 years ago. Their relationship quickly blossomed: ‘We weren’t meaning to get together, but we just ended up together as we wanted to do everything together!’ Ness says.
So far, so good – but this disabled couple live miles apart, Ness at Livability York House, a residential care home in Ossett, West Yorkshire, and Stevie in Peterborough. National charity Livability’s disability services put individuals’ wellbeing and happiness as their top priority, so for York House staff, making sure Ness and Stevie can meet up is essential.
‘The staff at Livability York House have been so helpful,’ says Ness. ‘They said from the start that if you want to see Stevie, we will find a way to make that happen!’ Ness requires one to one support and Stevie uses a talking aid to communicate and assistance with travel.
Supporting friendships, relationships and community is important to Livability’s disability services ‘because statistics show that 50% of disabled people will be lonely on any given day’, says York House manager Helen Holt.
‘Weak social connections also carry a health risk that is more harmful than not exercising, twice as harmful as obesity and is the equivalent of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Transport costs are often higher and can rocket at special times of the year like Valentine’s Day and Christmas.’
The first time Stevie visited Ness in her home at York House, Ness felt ‘nervous and excited’. But it all worked out: ‘What we like to do together is go to the pub, to the cinema, perhaps bowling,’ says Ness. ‘We just sit and chat, look at pictures, watch a DVD, take the micky out of one another!’ Stevie goes straight to the point: ‘To be with Ness makes me so happy and calm.’.
Stevie and Ness visit at least four times a year ‘and he’s part of the York House family,’ says Ness. ‘They all know him now, the people who live here, the staff, people in Ossett, people at the pub.’ Loneliness can be a problem when living in a flat on your own, admits Stevie, who loves joining in with life at York House.
Emotionally, Stevie finds it helpful to know he can rely on Livability to care well for Ness, says Helen. ‘Often he will email me if he senses that Ness is feeling a little low or if he is concerned that she is unhappy about something, to ask us to keep an eye on her. It helps that the staff team know Stevie really well and so do the people we support.’
Staff have also supported Ness to get to grips with assistive technology so she and Stevie can be in touch when they choose. ‘I started writing letters and cards – now I have an email, Facebook and Skype,’ Ness says. ‘We speak every day on the phone and text every day. I think it is a good thing knowing from the morning that he is alright and then I can get on with my day, and it’s the same for him.’
Eleven years in, the couple – now engaged – are devoted to each other. They’ll be divided by the miles this Valentine’s Day but will celebrate with a special bouquet for Ness and face-time until they can see each other again. ‘He makes me laugh, he makes me cry!’ smiles Ness. ‘I love him to bits.’
[thrive_link color=’orange’ link=’https://livability.org.uk/landing/valentines’ target=’_self’ size=’medium’ align=’aligncenter’]Find out more about our Valentine’s appeal[/thrive_link]