Liam Butler of Eldernet Gazette interviews Chris Armstrong, General Manager of Abbeyfield NZ Inc

LIAM BUTLER SPEAKS TO CHRIS ARMSTRONG GENERAL SECRETARY ABBEYFIELD NEW ZEALAND

An accounting degree prepared Chris for work with AMP and Mobil Oil before he joined the family horticulture business for fifteen years in home town Nelson.  Then, from 1994,he and his wife operated a manufacturing business producing chess sets.

Joining Abbeyfield looking for a job that had the potential to provide greater satisfaction through the rewards that come from serving others, Chris has just completed ten years working as the General Secretary and Chief Executive for Abbeyfield New Zealand. Abbeyfield's mission "To enhance the lives of older people" and its charitable status alignwell with his personal commitment and Christian beliefs.

Chris has led Abbeyfield while it has grown from just four houses in 2004 to its current 11 operating houses with two extra projects under construction. Abbeyfield currently houses 118 residents, employs 40 full and part time staff and controls assets worth over $25 million. The groups operating income is approaching $2 million annually.

 

Chris, when, where and why was the Abbeyfield housing option established?

Abbeyfield was first established in England in December 1955 when a retired Guards Major called Richard Carr-Gomm invited four lonely older people to join him in establishing a house where they would live together, retaining their independence and dignity while receiving support from a housekeeper/cook.

Richard had a passion for community service and while acting as a volunteer home-help had realised that the people he was assisting needed human contact and social interaction with others as much as having their floors scrubbed or windows cleaned. The devastation of war had broken up communities, scattered families and destroyed neighbourhoods. Older folk whose social networks had gone were especially vulnerable.

The Abbeyfield movement grew rapidly through the 60s and 70s with support from Government and Christian financial networks until there were around 800 Abbeyfield homes in the UK in the mid-90s. Since that time Abbeyfield in the UK has reorganised and quit many old properties no longer meeting resident's needs for space and ensuites. The money realised from sales of existing properties has been recycled into care homes (called rest homes in NZ) and new modern apartment style housing with security, restaurants and gymnasiums. Abbeyfield houses over 5,000 people in the UK and approaching 1,000 in 17 other countries. Abbeyfield was introduced into NZ in 1992 with the first house opened in Nelson in 1994. We now have 11 houses operating across the country housing 118 older people, with two additional developments underway in Leeston and Hornby in Christchurch which will provide an additional 26 studios.

Abbeyfield in NZ is a co-operative movement of volunteers and some professional staff endeavouring to enhance the quality of life for older people.

How do you make sure that the communal lifestyle does not end up like the bank ad on telly of older people flatting?

Abbeyfield goes to great lengths to ensure residents are compatible. Each resident is interviewed and carefully assessed before being invited to trial the lifestyle. This enables them to decline an offer of accommodation if they have reservations. It also allows existing residents, the staff and the volunteer committee that runs each house to meet them and assess their compatibility. Our new houses have small refrigerators in all studios (so sharing the milk is not an issue) and the housekeeper keeps fruit bowls and biscuit tins full.

Residents have to be independent as Abbeyfield does not offer care. Our residents can access home help however from their local health provider, just like people living alone.

Abbeyfield employs a housekeeper to prepare and serve the two main meals of the day, stock the ‘self-serve' breakfast bar and clean the communal areas. Residents are responsible for furnishing their ensuite studios and keeping them clean. The housekeeper acts as "mother hen" encouraging residents and monitoring health and compatibility issues that might arise.

We aim to keep the weekly charge affordable to people on the pension. Those who receive national super can also access the accommodation supplement to augment their income.

With New Zealand benefiting from the increased wisdom that comes from having more older people, how can the Abbeyfield model link the community together?

There is a tsunami of old folk coming as baby boomers enter retirement. Many of them can afford to downsize into retirement villages but a significant number do not own homes and cannot afford retirement village capital fees. Private rentals are moving beyond their reach leaving Council pensioner housing and Housing NZ as their only affordable alternative; but waiting lists are long. Abbeyfield helps fill the niche by providing affordable, high quality accommodation with significant support provided by the housekeeper and volunteers.

Abbeyfield has, as its guiding principles, an acknowledgement that older folk have intrinsic worth and value. They should be supported to live in dignity, with respect and have their important and unique role to play in relation to families and the wider community acknowledged and encouraged.

We think older people's needs (medical, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual) should be given high priority and they should be encouraged to share their gifts and skills by the community.

Abbeyfield residents are involved in their local house management. Many volunteer in our gardens. They are also active in their local community and service organisations. They arrange street barbeques, quiz evenings, hold ‘open homes' for neighbours and invite lonely old folk in for Christmas dinner. Some still have jobs. Our residents are the best promoters of Abbeyfield.

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Contact

Abbeyfield New Zealand
Level One,
200 Hardy Street

PO Box 482
Nelson 7040
New Zealand
P:+64 3 546 6459
F:+64 3 546 6210
E: office@abbeyfield.org.nz
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