On 6 March this year, I had the opportunity to visit McMullen Abbeyfield House in Huonville in southern Tasmania for its 10th birthday celebrations. McMullen Abbeyfield House, in Huonville, is part of Abbeyfield Australia, which is the peak national body that represents 26 affiliated Abbeyfield associations. Across Australia, there are 23 Abbeyfield houses and three hostel aged care facilities. These facilities are located in Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia, New South Wales, the ACT and Queensland. Tasmania has five Abbeyfield houses, with the others being in Burnie, Launceston, Chigwell and Glenorchy. Tasmania is certainly well represented in Abbeyfield houses, given the state’s small population, but bearing in mind the percentage of the population over 65 this is possibly not surprising.
McMullen Abbeyfield House is a group home that encourages independent living in a supportive environment. Residents come and go as they please, retaining their independence and personal interests, but they have the company of others if they choose to socialise in shared areas of the home. McMullen House has a wonderful vegetable garden and many fruit trees. Many of the residents enjoy harvesting the wide variety of vegetables and fruit grown and also cook and preserve much of the produce. Indeed, I was quite envious of the many preserve jars on the wall unit.
The residents have a real sense of pride and belonging in their home. They have a housekeeper and are provided with home-cooked meals. The residents tell me the food is wonderful, and if they want to cook they are encouraged to do so. I think this is one of the aspects that makes the facility a real home for many: the fact that they can make a cake, cook a dinner or just be in the kitchen with the housekeeper.
Costs are met by residents paying 70 per cent of the base pension plus 100 per cent of their rent assistance to Abbeyfield. Payments cover food, accommodation, cleaning, materials and power, plus a gardener for those bigger gardening jobs, and rates on the building. If family visit and wish to stay overnight, there is a guest room, and family and friends can stay for meals, both at small cost. This is a real sense of home; it is not at all institutionalised. There is a real sense of warmth and personality, and the residents really enjoy the mix of independence, while still feeling supported. A couple of the residents told me it was the best move they had ever made. McMullen Abbeyfield House was largely funded by a private estate. Land and the equivalent costs of seven rooms and en suites were included. The remaining three rooms were funded by the state government and the normal public housing eligibility criteria apply.
There is another Abbeyfield House, in the northern suburbs of Hobart. Abbeyfield Glenorchy was developed with funding under the Local Government Community Housing Program, and a contribution from the Commonwealth government, at the time the Keating government. The Commonwealth government funding came in the form of two separate grants, $440,000 in the 1992-93 financial year and $40,000 in the 1993-94 financial year. This project was also greatly supported by Rotary, Lions and the Trust Bank Foundation.
While I am mentioning Abbeyfield Glenorchy, I would like to congratulate the five people who were awarded life membership of Abbeyfield Glenorchy Inc. for their service last year. They are Mrs Anne Gunn, Mrs June Flood, Mrs Merle Diakovsky, Mr Max Maynard and Mr Leo Hurst. Mr Hurst is also a director on the Abbeyfield Australia board. He is joined there by fellow Tasmanian David Kay, who is the national treasurer.
Abbeyfield’s focus has been providing assisted group housing for Australians aged 55 and over. However, there is now also accommodation for people with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities. This change in direction has occurred as a result of need in the community.
Abbeyfield Australia is part of a worldwide movement with 18 countries using the concept of group housing, which began in the United Kingdom in 1955. The concept came about when Richard Carr-Gomm volunteered his services to help elderly people needing practical assistance and companionship. Mr Carr-Gomm went further than just being a helper and companion. He purchased a house, made it available for people to live in and became the housekeeper, although this was only for a very short time. Mr Carr-Gomm then founded the Carr-Gomm Society, which operated on the same principles. Abbeyfield in Australia began in 1986 with a home in Melbourne. Other countries using the concept include Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Jersey, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, the United States of America, and an associate member, Mexico. At present more than 9,000 people live in 850 Abbeyfield houses worldwide. Abbeyfield Australia is a registered not-for-profit company and registered charity.
The national peak body advocates for all Abbeyfield houses and helps to maintain a management and support framework for all associations. This includes providing: legal and governance advice; national representation and advocacy; planning, building design and project management; a national framework of policies and operational procedures; a comprehensive suite of targeted insurance policies; affiliation and management agreements; ongoing operational guidance; and collegial support and volunteer networking opportunities
Abbeyfield Australia understands that Australia’s demand for affordable housing will continue to increase at a rapid rate as the ‘baby boomer’ generation ages. They also recognise that group living is a highly cost-effective way in which to provide quality community based accommodation. Abbeyfield Australia has both the capacity and the experience to assist in meeting the demands of the nation’s changing population.
Each Abbeyfield house is managed by a local incorporated association with its own volunteer committee of management. The local association must manage the house in line with the Abbeyfield Australia governance principles and procedures. The association is responsible for: compliance with tenancy legislation and food safety standards; induction and continuing liaison with residents; employment of the live-in housekeeper; budgeting and financial management; and consultation with residents on both an individual and a house level
Abbeyfield Australia is hopeful that it will be able to help meet the demands for affordable and cost-effective community housing. Abbeyfield believes its expertise and community volunteer commitment, combined with financial support from the Australian government, can deliver good outcomes in an economically responsible way. Once built, there is no need for ongoing financial support from government as all operational costs are met through the rent. The Abbeyfield business model allows for consistent outcomes while maximising local community involvement and ownership.
Each Abbeyfield house has room for 10 residents with each having their own bedroom with ensuite and tea and coffee facilities. Shared areas of the house include lounge and dining areas, a laundry and an outdoor area. When I was at Abbeyfield House in Huonville each room had its own little outdoor area and many of the residents had tables and chairs where they could relax with family. As mentioned, a housekeeper provides nutritious meals and the maintenance and house costs are covered by the local association.
One of the most important things about an Abbeyfield house is that they are designed to feel like a home and not like an institution or facility. Abbeyfield residents experience many benefits, which may include: affordable, supportive, safe and long-term secure accommodation; greater independence for older residents; an opportunity for people with disability to move out from their parents’ home; enhanced social relationships and companionship; increased community participation; and the lessening of isolation for those people who live in isolated areas. They also allow people to stay within the area they have grown up in. That was a great benefit at the Huonville home I visited. There is also additional opportunities to access work, especially for residents with disability. It eases the burden on family members who have been previously caring for the resident.
I believe Abbeyfield is a great concept in that it provides affordable housing as well as allowing residents to live independently while still receiving support when needed. Abbeyfield Australia has developed a strategic plan for 2010 to 2015 and it has set a target of having 46 households across the nation by the end of that period. With that many houses, about 650 people will be living in Abbeyfield accommodation. Further to this, by 2025 it is envisaged Abbeyfield Australia will have more than 100 properties accommodating approximately 1,300 people.
In conclusion, I would point out that Australia has approximately 522 local government areas. If there were just one house in each local government area that would accommodate more than 5,200 people. That is certainly something worth thinking about.