Sarg’s Story – Leaving Home
Click to download
in pdf formatPeter (‘Sarge’) Sargison, by letting me tell this story, provides an important example of the need to think outside the traditional approaches to residential support. Particularly, when, as in Peter’s case, intractable personal problems don’t respond to the narrow and restrictive application of support hours that we have become used to.
This is part of a progression that started with thinking beyond the provision of accommodation (bricks and mortar), to thinking about home creation. From embracing the concept of home we have now moved to life building and the recognition that each life area requires a different application of resources and energy to maximize growth and repair. This chapter in Peter’s story illustrates an approach to role creation or more specifically, in Peter’s case, role retrieval.
Supporters of socially disengaged people ̶ very few people with life defining disabilities are properly socially engaged ̶ are now seeing that survival provisions such as a few domestic or basic community access hours may achieve very little and, in fact, end up being wasteful.
To quote from Doctor Peter Wright, Senior Lecturer in Arts Education and Research Methods at Murdoch University in Western Australia ̶ ‘In the UK, the Arts Council of England and Department of Health are active partners with supporting policy initiatives. Consequently, social engagement, health and well being are intimately entwined’.
This life building approach will be essential if Australian society is to achieve real social inclusion for those cast to the fringes of our society.
Peter’s story clearly encapsulates this direction, illustrating how a broader but carefully targeted approach of the right nature can save money and achieve better results.
Peter has given me permission to tell this very personal story because of its life saving importance for him and others.
Peter was born without arms as well as having various other health conditions that have kept him in a state of vulnerability all of his life. North West Residential Support Services (NWRSS) has maintained contact with him for over twenty years providing small amounts of support at his request. This has never usually gone beyond ten hours per week with lengthy periods of nothing but friendly catch up chats over a beer. His life has followed fairly normal patterns with a childhood in a flourishing neighborhood that, according to a long-time neighbour, consisted of ‘twelve houses and sixty seven kids.’ One of those now grown up kids relates how, in his determination to be just like the others, Peter left permanent teeth marks on the wooden steering wheel of the little communal plastic tractor as he took his turn to foot-push and steer it up and down the street.
NWRSS’ informal contact to keep up with his life and support him by request has been a very cost effective way of providing the support he needs. His stability over much of this period was due to his identity as an artist and his natural inclusion in the art circles within the community. Peter completed his Arts Diploma at TAFE, held regular exhibitions and won a significant regional award. Many home walls in the North West region carry Peter’s paintings, drawings and prints. Unfortunately, this role as an artist slowly diminished as the artists who used to naturally support him moved away or took up other pursuits. Drinking often filled the gap and fueled the procrastination that prevented a return to his artistic role even though he is well remembered and well regarded by the many people who know him, as a once popular local artist.
Peter, his sister and mother coped well with the death of Peter’s father in 1990. Sadly, Peter’s much loved sister, Jenny, who had often been his arms, took her own life after struggling with depression in 1995. This left Peter and his mother to support each other in a close co-dependent relationship. Peter could drive an extensively modified car while his mother had never held a licence. She was often his arms while he was her wheels. Eventually he lost his licence for drink-driving offences, and then Peter relinquished the car, because of its high maintenance costs. He and his mother, though, stayed very close and continued their entwined lives without wheels.
When Peter’s mother died in 2009 there was suddenly nothing left for him to focus his life on. He had no strong ties to other relatives and, as the last of his family, felt an enormous sense of loss and loneliness. Alcohol became more of a panacea and his dreams of picking up his art tools again receded further.
Having only one kidney, this lifestyle seriously threatened Peter’s health and threw him into a deep depression that took him in a suicidal direction. He came close to succeeding on numerous occasions.
NWRSS started providing more visiting hours but it was obvious that while they provided temporary paid social connections, they were not going to alter the lack of purpose that was plaguing him. The usual direction for support services in such situations is to apply for, and throw more hours through the narrow domestic keyhole. Enough hours can often hold a situation in some semblance of day to day control but not get close to the cause of the problem. The initial injection of funds might be necessary to arrest the crisis but maintaining this position in the long-term can just be wasteful.
In looking at Peter’s life areas, it wasn’t hard to see that addressing his once very strong, but now all but lost artistic role, could be a well-aimed shot at the heart of his problems.
NWRSS approached production company, BIGhART to find a suitable artistic mentor to work with Peter in rebuilding his life. Artist, Nick Hobbs, was working for BIGhART at the time with art students at the Wynyard High School as part of the preparation for their annual musical production, Two Strong Hearts. Nick was introduced to Peter and they decided to start working together. Nick helped Peter sort out the years of work that lay piled under Peter’s bed, organized studio space, equipment and the materials that Peter needed to start creating again. Twelve months later, Peter is ensconced in the artistic life once more with an outflow of saleable work. The cost in support time has been four hours a week.
When Nick eventually moved to Queenstown to become an artist-in-residence at the high school, it was decided to approach Rebecca Lavis, who lives and paints on the North West Coast and exhibits in Sydney, to continue this mentoring approach in Nick’s place. As previously, Peter and Rebecca were introduced and left to decide their compatibility for the continuation of the venture. Both agreed to start working together. The work included drawing forays into the community, time spent in Rebecca’s studio and at, Peter’s home based studio (a corner of his one bedroom flat) as well as a local community studio.
Peter continues to flourish, and in the best of artistic partnerships Rebecca and Peter often become subjects for each other.
The secret to this success is the careful targeting of the right life area with a coherent approach of using the right person, doing the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, with the right materials, for the right reasons.
Peter’s work with Rebecca now includes regular personal zines. A zine is a wonderful way for people to self bolster their identities and keep a creative record of their life and achievements. Wikipedia defines a zine as:
A zine(an abbreviation of the word fanzine, or magazine; pronounced /ˈziːn/ zeen) is most commonly a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier.
You can read Peter’s zines by clicking on the cover page at the beginning of his story or by using the zines directory at the top of this page.
Peter is no longer on a pathway to nowhere. His life is now meaningful and the future looks good. As long as Peter has a brush between his toes and remains a part of the art community then, as he says on the last page of his zine – ‘Bring it on!’
This article was posted on 28/4/11.