Clifden sheltered housing scheme should be template for communities

Michael Carr, resident, Maureen Bartley, Scheme Manager, and Patricia Jacques, Event Coordinator at St Joseph's Court in Clifden.

Older people have a wealth of knowledge and experience to offer us. In this week’s Community Matters, Stephen Corrigan meets staff and residents at Clúid’s sheltered housing scheme at St Joseph’s Centre in Clifden who say their model should be the template for keeping older people in the community.

“It is about enabling older people to be a part of a wider community and enabling them to live independently.”

That’s the motivation behind Clúid Housing’s sheltered accommodation for older people in Clifden – with St Joseph’s Court providing 43 apartments for older people in the area for the past 14 years.

Unlike residential care, St Joseph’s Court is independent living with the added support of the Clúid team.

Housing Officer, Kathleen Aspel Mortimer, says the scheme has been such a success that it should be a template for the entire country.

“They are making choices about their lives without somebody telling them that they have to have breakfast at six o’clock or tea at six o’clock, or that they have to be in bed by a certain time.

“The whole project here has been set up over 14 years – this didn’t happen overnight and because of the way that it has been implemented, we can see the huge benefits that it gives to older people,” says Kathleen.

Specifically designed for those on the council housing waiting list, aged over 59, St Joseph’s has given older people in the Connemara area a way out of the turbulent rental market – and instead offered them a secure tenancy at equitable rates.

The importance of making the apartment their own and integrating with the people living around them is most important, says Kathleen.

“The wider picture with Clúid is that we provide houses, but it’s about building thriving communities within that.

“It is their place of living – we provide the housing, they provide the home,” says Kathleen.

Those living at St Joseph’s Court come from all walks of life – those who have lived in Connemara all their lives, those who moved to the area and made their life there – and 21 returned emigrants who wanted to come home.

One of those who returned is Marguerite Jackson who has been living at St Joseph’s since it opened 14 years ago.

“I enjoy the place – I needed it badly. We have a good life here. All my family had gone living their own lives and I was on my own – my husband had died, so I wanted to come home to roost.

“I was 39 years in England but I was glad to get back,” says Marguerite with a smile.

Sitting around the table in one of the block’s communal areas, there’s no hiding the fact that all those present are happy with their lot – as a conversation equal in measures of praise and gentle ribbing breaks out.

Another resident at St Joseph’s Court is Pat Bowyer, who moved to Clifden from France with a young family, and she believes the freedom they all have in their own space is crucially important.

Kathleen says that maintaining the right to choose how your own day pans out is paramount to all of us, regardless of age, and while they organise trips and outings, there is no pressure on anybody to do anything.

“We try to get away for a couple of days to a hotel somewhere and to have different outings around the area but for all of that, you have to hire buses.

Residents at their coffee morning at St Joseph’s Court in Clifden. Included in the photograph on the left are Patricia Jacques, Event Coordinator, and Maureen Bartley, Scheme Manager.

“It is quite expensive to live in an area like this because while it is lovely, it costs a lot of money to move one inch outside it,” she laughs.

Mike Carr, a local man living at St Josephs, says aside from all the options available to them, the security of knowing your apartment is yours for as long as you need it is a great comfort.

Similarly, upon her return from Egypt during the Arab Spring, Sister Barbara Molloy says St Joseph’s gave her a chance to return home to Galway while continuing to volunteer and avoid retirement.

Older Persons Support Officer, Maureen Batley, says they make a concerted effort to ensure there are activities and links with the community available as often as people want it – something that is coordinated between the GRETB and Patricia Jacques.

“We have intergenerational projects that we do with the local national schools and it is a lovely project.

“We also have social inclusion day where we set up board games that you mightn’t have played for years and we have the residents here, the Transition Years, Ability West and we have people with different abilities all together,” she explains.

Another highlight of the annual calendar is Culture Night – something that resonates greatly amongst the residents given their broad range of backgrounds.

“There are so many cultures in here that we have represented so we would have a table for Germany, France, England, America and Egypt; and then we would have food from all the different countries,” says Kathleen.

Residents can avail of services on site like chiropody, a hair salon, a gym and increased contact with management, should they wish – as well as Food Cloud where local supermarket, Aldi, donates food to be shared amongst residents.

Other staff members include Male Support Worker, Dave O’Holleran and Olive Delap – both of whom Kathleen says are integral to residents’ comfort and safety.

Well-known artist, Joe Boske, says part of the attraction to the centre is the fact that nobody “threads on anybody’s corns”.

“All of that is available, which is brilliant, but it is not in your face and you don’t feel that you must comply with whatever the rules of the house are,” says Joe.

Mary Diamond lived in Boston for many years before returning to Clifden eight years ago and she says St Joseph’s rescued her from high rents and uncertainty when she moved there four years ago.

Similarly, Esther Bolger says the ambiguity of private rental was eliminated for her when she moved to Clifden from Dublin – having returned from England.

Kathleen says the important thing is to get the right people, establish links with the community and have the support of local health professionals – at the same time as ensuring people have the right to determine their own lives.

“With older people, their life can change in a heartbeat – with anyone, it can change in a heartbeat.

“At least here, in a social setting, there is an opportunity for you not to go into full-time care. You might not be able to live out in Ballyconneely on your own but you might here – it is giving people an added opportunity at that time of life,” says Kathleen.