Amanda’s daughter, Laura, is the founding core member of the L’Arche Manchester community. In this piece, Amanda reflects on the challenges of caring for a child with a learning disability and how L’Arche has transformed hers, and Laura’s life.

Everyone who meets Laura falls in love with her. You can’t help it. She’s loving, caring, temperamental, moody, hilarious and she’s just a beautiful person all round. She’s got flaws - we all have - but we have a way of voicing our concerns, our worries and our fears. Laura doesn’t.

Laura moving to L’Arche came at just the right time because our relationship was falling apart at the seams. I wasn’t coping. My health was deteriorating physically and mentally. We just weren’t getting on at all. The plan was always that Laura would go into supported living when she left college, but it got to the point where we needed to find somewhere sooner.

Laura was attending a special college. She had a love/hate relationship with it, so trying to get her there in the morning was tough. She was an adult, adult sized, so if she didn’t want to get dressed, she wasn’t getting dressed. You couldn’t force her to get dressed. It was things like that. Getting her dressed, eating breakfast, getting her to get up off a chair, out of the door and onto the bus. It was impossible. I physically couldn’t do it. So then I couldn’t go to work and I would have to find a child minder at two minutes’ notice. The pressure of that was immense. 

Laura’s social worker told me about L’Arche. I had never heard of it. When I found out that the assistants lived there and that it was a community, that’s what sold it to me.

Laura absolutely loved L’Arche from the beginning. She went for her first sleepover and that was it, she didn’t come home again. They weren’t even ready for her. She wasn’t supposed to have gone like that, but she decided that she wasn’t coming home. It killed me because I wasn’t expecting it. I knew it was coming, but I didn’t expect it to be that quick. When Laura first left I fell to pieces, purely because the role I had for twenty two years had been pulled from under my feet. I was completely lost, it was a horrible feeling. 

I had been so used to doing everything on my own. Getting her into college and school, and fighting for transport to get her there, it was all me. So once she was in L’Arche and that was handed over it felt like a weight had been lifted. It was time for me to enjoy my life. Before I could only work part-time on a zero hours’ contract. Now I can work full-time on a full-time contract. I can go on holiday when I want to - not that I have many - but the option is there. I can go out in the evenings instead of being a prisoner. Knowing that I can do something if I want to, it’s a feeling of release.

Laura’s always been funny, but she’s become even funnier since coming to L’Arche. She’s grown in confidence in her abilities. I’m really glad of that. That’s exactly the reason why I didn’t want her to stay at home with me for the rest of her life. I always said she needed to move on and live without me supporting her full-time.

At L’Arche you have that continuity of care, which people with learning disabilities need. Because everybody lives together you get to know everyone’s foibles and quirks, and you love each other even more. I don’t see L’Arche as a service provider; I see it now as my extended family. That’s what I tell everyone. I’ve adopted this big family. It’s great because I’ve only got a little family. All of a sudden there are all these lovely people who love Laura. Its great – the best thing we ever did.

I really think that people with learning disabilities should be offered the opportunity to live in communities like L’Arche. It doesn’t just help people with learning disabilities. It helps non-disabled people as well. You become more rounded as a person and much less judgemental.

I would love for Laura to stay where she is and to blossom, and grow, even more. Who knows, maybe one day she might live in an annex next door and when she needs somebody she can knock - you wouldn’t get any sleep, would you! She’s surprised me so far with what she can do, so who’s to say that couldn’t happen. Either way, I’m happy.