Field of dreams opens

UNVEILING: Minister for Disability Services Andrew Constance, Member for Goulburn Pru Goward and Abbeyfield chairperson Annemarie Athea officially opening Abbeyfield Disability House on Wednesday. Photo Peter Oliver. Follow @TomSebo1
Nanjing Night Net

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AFTER almost a decade of hard work, a group of determined locals have helped to change the way the State cares for people with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities.

On Wednesday afternoon, Minister for Disability Services Andrew Constance and Member for Goulburn Pru Goward officially opened NSW’s first Abbeyfield Disability House, which will provide 10 young adults with full time accommodation.

The State contributed $1.8 million toward the project and has already committed to using the same model in Narrabri.

“This house is unique in its approach to supported accommodation because it focuses on independent living, rather than the traditional care model for residents,” Minister Constance said.

“A home like this gives people with a disability the opportunity to be more independent and learn to be less reliant on their parents.”

The house will have a live in carer, or house keeper, who will provide residents with two nutritious meals a day and make sure they are okay.

However, that will be the end of their duties. The house mates will be responsible for looking after themselves and have daily chores to complete.

The model is also financially self-reliant.

Each resident pays 70 per cent of their disability pension and their government rental assistance and this covers all of their living expenses.

While it is extremely cost effective for the government, Minister Constance says it is the “quality of life outcomes” that government cares about.

In the last 15 months, the State has committed $2 billion in growth funding to help deliver disability services, with the philosophy of funding tailored programs as opposed to one-size-fits-all bureaucracy.

“The beauty of the Abbeyfield model is that it will help people to achieve their aspirations…” he said.

“There are a lot of people who have aging parent carers and concerns about their future. The philosophy behind the Abbeyfield model is to generate opportunities and meet the aspirations of people with disabilities.”

The project began in 2003, when a Department of Aging, Disability and Home Care employee Anne Wiggan teamed up with a group of concerned local parents to find a solution to the plight facing their children.

Abbeyfield building committee member Tony Egan has been involved since its inception. He and his wife were concerned about what lay ahead for their daughter Alice, who had not long turned 18.

“In the early stages we were trying to find out what housing options were open to young school leavers with disabilities and apart from a one bedroom housing commission apartment there was very little that would give the support and encouragement to independently integrate with society at large,” he said.

A lot of people with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities were becoming institutionalised when their parents became too old and infirmed to care for them anymore.

There were literally thousands of young people all across the state falling through the cracks on the system. So, the group sought the patronage of Senator Ursula Stephens, who accepted, and began looking for a better model. That’s when they found Abbeyfield Australia.

Once the group had the vision they set about turning it into a reality. They constructed a model and approached the state government for funding, which they eventually received thanks to considerable lobbying by Senator Stephens.

At the same time, they also began a publicity campaign and local fundraising. In the end they received major donations from 20 local groups and organisations as well as hundreds of personal contributions.

On Wednesday, chair Annemarie Athea was ecstatic and thanked everybody who showed their support, saying it never would have been possible without them.

“It was such a big project but we got there one day at a time…” she said.

“The end result is house that can be called home by 10 local people… It gives them the chance at a normal life and this just hasn’t been possible in any other way.”

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