Above L-R: David Pigott, Chair of the Ella Centre’s board of directors; Andrew Constance, the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability; Alison Easton, executive officer of the Ella Centre; Nando Sciacca from SFN Constructions.
By Stephen Easton
The first brick was ceremonially laid this week to mark the construction of Australia’s first daytime activity centre specifically for people with younger onset dementia, on the grounds of St David’s Uniting Church at Haberfield, in Sydney’s inner west.
The new building marks a significant expansion in service capabilities for the Ella Centre, a Uniting Church-affiliated organisation which has provided community services for older people, people with dementia and people with disabilities in its local community since 1974.
The ceremony was officiated by the chair of Ella Centre board, David Pigott, who thanked local architect Colin Filmer for achieving a “wonderful compromise between heritage and practicality, and modernity”.
The building project’s commencement comes after a long council approval process, including an archaeological assessment of the site’s heritage value, and Mr Pigott also thanked members of Ashfield City Council for “being very supportive and doing everything they could to help us get it over the line”.
The ceremonial brick was laid by the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability, Andrew Constance, with a little help from two other local state MPs, the Greens member for Balmain, Jamie Parker, and the Liberal member for Strathfield, Charles Casuscelli.
Above: Andrew Constance, the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability, lays the commemorative first brick for the new younger onset dementia day respite centre.
A common theme among all the speakers was their acknowledgement of the Ella Centre’s executive director, Alison Easton, for her persistence and determination in bringing to project to fruition, and other efforts to provide support services in Sydney’s west designed specifically for people with younger onset dementia and their carers.
“I’m a big believer that with any person who has a chronic disease, disability, or someone who is ageing, you have to actually individualise the supports that exist around that person, and what’s particularly terrific about this situation is the fact that it’s unique,” Mr Constance said.
“It is fantastic to think that here on the grounds of St David’s, with the support of the Ella Centre’s board and tenacious people like Alison, we have without doubt a unique facility, and one which is going to service the individual and specific needs of younger people who are suffering dementia.”
Loud applause met the minister’s announcement that the NSW Government will allocate another $40,000 for social support programs at the facility.
Above: Three Members of NSW Parliament view the plans for the new younger onset dementia day respite centre. L-R: Andrew Constance, the NSW Minister for Ageing and Disability; Jamie Parker, the Greens Member for Balmain; Charles Casuscelli, the Liberal Member for Strathfield; Alison Easton, executive officer of the Ella Centre.
Mr Constance said the centre was one example of the federal, state and local governments working together and expressed optimism that it would inspire others to contribute to supporting the more than 5,000 people in NSW with younger onset dementia.
“The Ella Centre does a tremendous job in this part of Sydney, but I dare say that this type of facility, given its unique nature, will be something that’s attractive to people right across the state in terms of looking at the model of care and the nature of the services and supports that can go in.”
Ms Easton said that she and other staff members from the Ella Centre were “heart-broken” when one of their younger clients recently moved into a nursing home. It is hoped that when completed, their day respite centre would help younger people with dementia to live in the community for longer.
“We of course want to see more [young] people being diverted away from residential aged care as the only option when it comes to the provision of support,” Minister Constance said.
“We have to recognise that obviously those older people with dementia, compared to those who are younger, have different needs and wants. And if you’re a young person with a disability forced into a nursing home, the programs and the supports that are on offer through a nursing home just don’t even go close to meeting what’s required in terms of your individual needs.”
He described the new centre as “an ideal, wonderful, community-based support which will go a long way to meeting the needs of young people who have dementia”.
Above: Jackie Taylor, who cares for her husband Peter, who has younger onset dementia.
One of the Ella Centre’s grateful clients, Jackie Taylor, explained the challenges that she and her family faced through the “trial and error” process of caring for her husband Peter, who has younger onset dementia and was also present at the ceremony.
“…It’s incredibly difficult, heart-breaking and scary, and we could not continue without support, but he is still our Pete, and ‘Dad’,” Ms Taylor said.
“When this building is completed, families coming after us in the earlier stages of younger onset dementia won’t need risky ‘trial and error’ tactics, but will have ready access to appropriate support and respite options with all the trimmings – support services tailored to the individual, delivered with flexibility in a controlled environment, and activities within the community. We hope that Pete can at least road test them.”
Above: Peter Taylor watches the ceremony with staff members from the Ella Centre.