Our facility has been adopting permaculture principles to develop a program that connects our elders and creates opportunities for engagement, write Michelle Royce and Gavin Harwood.
We had been aware for some time that even though our residents live in a communal environment, they often don’t know each other very well, often resulting in loneliness and isolation.
It was also evident that the focus in a residential care facility can be too care and task oriented, sometimes to the detriment of social, emotional and cultural life. We realised that diversional therapy in the traditional sense did not always achieve the outcomes that we sought for our residents.
To truly fulfill our organisation’s vision, we wanted to play a more significant role in connecting our elders with each other, creating opportunities for friendship and engagement, and creating a community rather than a group of people living and working in the same building.
After our lifestyle team at Mater Christi Aged Care Facility attended the Arts Health Institute’s 2014 Play Up Convention, they returned truly excited about implementing positive change in how we deliver care and services.
With the support of management, we compiled a wish list of objectives that we wanted to achieve and designed a program with the aim of ‘Growing Community’.
The use of the term growing, rather than building is intentional, as it highlights that a sense of community, friendship and connection grows naturally out of shared experiences and interests.
Adopting permaculture principles
Our program is comprised of activities, projects and events. Seeking a framework on which to base the program, we found that, with some creative thinking, the principals of permaculture, as described by David Holmgren, were suitable.
For instance, principle one: observe and interact, says that “by taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.”
We began by examining our organisation’s physical situation. We are a standalone regional organisation where a residential aged care facility of 101 beds is co-located within an independent living village of around 200 units.
With a chapel, café, learning centre and extensive gardens and green areas within our site, we had all the ingredients to nurture a community of people with diverse care needs.
These people, with their various needs – physical, cultural, emotional and spiritual – are the other, organic, side of the equation. With appropriate opportunities these people will become a self–supporting, caring, thriving neighbourhood, enriched by their contributions to and connections with each other.
There is also the greater community. Through partnering in projects with other organisations such as Southern Cross University, TAFE and local businesses, as well as our local parish and volunteers, we can offer our residents a much broader scope of social interaction.
Adopting another permaculture principle that promotes the use of “small and slow solutions,” we decided to integrate sideline projects.
For example, it had been noted that the unit where many of our high care residents with dementia live was looking drab. We have started a project to decorate these areas with tactile and colorful art for our residents.
Through involving our own community of knitters, we have created a group who feels they are really contributing to the wellbeing of their fellow residents using skills they already possess. This ongoing project was highly commended by the Dementia Behaviour Management Advisory Service during a recent visit.
Another current project is The Kindness Campaign, which evolved from the concept of paying good deeds forward.
These marginal ideas, sourced from global phenomenon, have delighted our residents who find them fun, rewarding, interesting and engaging. They are all chosen for their constructive nature, adaptability to our needs and compliance with the aged care standards. They all offer our residents the opportunity to participate, feel empowered, validated and engaged in what’s going on the wider world.
Slowly but surely we are seeing the shoots and tendrils of positive results of our Growing Community approach. Over the next year we will be documenting measurable outcomes so we can build even further on this concept.
Michelle Royce is lifestyle team officer and Gavin Harwood is lifestyle team coordinator at Sawtell Catholic Care of the Aged.
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