Bob Rhodes inspires a good life built on relationships

BobBob Rhodes, Co-founder of the British organisation Lives through Friends sums up his frustration with disability support around the world: “If you always do what you’ve always done. You’ll always get what you’ve always got,” Bob says. 

During a three-hour workshop hosted by Ministry of Social Development at the Christchurch Netball Centre on 19 November, Bob described his ideas and experiences about how disabled people can create something different for themselves – the life they want.

Bob is committed to restoring the balance between services and relationship networks; helping people and institutions work together to enable good lives. He believes that people need to reconnect with their communities and start planning with a focus on possibility and potential.

Bob recognises the Christchurch Enabling Good Lives demonstration is taking a different approach - different in the same ways as many of the overseas initiatives Bob has worked on. From Canada to Greece, there are groups in place whose focus is on improving the whole life of the disabled person through relationships, community and choice.  Services and funding play a support role.

Bob’s starting point for doing things differently is asking positive questions. He encourages disabled people and their families to discuss: “What really matters to you? How to you want to live your life?”

Friends, family and community are essential to making these plans work and grow. Bob explains that building intentional networks through models such as PLAN (Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network) or Circles of Support ensures advocacy for disabled people and reduces service dependency.

In Bob’s opinion, disabled people also need to be contributing citizens. People who are an asset to their community have a better social life, better networks and are more likely to achieve their plans.

Bob sums up his workshop by bringing people back to the centre of planning. “Begin with people. Everybody has abilities and everyone has something to offer. Start without using services and plan from there using community, family, friends and things that can be accessed locally. Eventually you will need services in your life but they shouldn’t be the focus of planning,” he says.