When we first mentioned The Village Garden Project to Deb, you could tell her mind raced away with all the possible benefits for the residents in her care. As we went on a tour around the land and gardens of Caroona Aged Care her excitement and vision were palpable. We were offering a garden, she wanted the world. Which is why Deb is the perfect fit to get us off the ground with this project. If you read the interview you will get a sense of what it’s like in Aged Care at the moment and what kind of future it has.
When did you start working at Caroona?
I started work as the Service Manager of Uniting Caroona Yamba in May 2014. What a beautiful place! This is my first experience living a coastal life and I am enjoying it so much I don’t plan to leave. I now have the best of both worlds – the beautiful Yamba and a small farm just north of Inverell.
Has Aged Care changed over the years?
Aged care has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Gone are the days where aged care was an extension of ‘hospital care’ that were managed by military precision and timelines. It definitely has changed for the better as it begins to break down some of the rigidness of rules and regulations. Aged care has become recognised as a specialty service and has grown into much more than a ‘health’ service. There is an increasing focus on remembering the older person, who they are, their life stories and their connections to family and communities. There is now more recognition of the importance of social and personal wants and needs of people, not simply someone who has a disability or needs help.
Where do you think aged care is heading?
The future is about getting further away from the ‘institutional’ feel of aged care. It is moving towards strengthening relationships with family, friends and community. Aged care will have stronger responsibilities to support people to have purpose and meaning in their lives. It will also need to meet the demands of a future aging population that has very different expectations than the current generation of elderly. Future elders will expect to have more say and have more choices.
Why are you getting involved in The Village Garden Project?
Most homes have a garden of some description. Families usually decide what they want to grow and share the responsibility of keeping plants alive. Having a Village Garden is one small aspect of showing we are part of a sharing community. Having a Village garden in our aged care service can bring that sense of family and ownership, and remind us that we are part of this community and that this is ‘home’. My being involved makes the statement that I believe this is right. It is a way of starting to bring us back to what is real and normal for people and welcomes everyone. It is a way of showing there is a better way. We need a ‘village attitude’ to support us all to share our lives with our elders and is a really good way to remind us look after ourselves and our environment.
What’s the potential of TVGP?
So much potential and who knows where it could take us. The strengths of a project like this are in building connections, sharing a common purpose and bringing a sense of normality back for people who have lost so much. Entering aged care can be an emotional roller coaster. There can be a sense of grief and loss at having to leave the family home and give up those things that give a sense of belonging somewhere. Becoming more frail can bring a loss of independence. This can easily slip into a sense of helplessness as decisions become more removed from the person. The potential of this project is that we can bring back a sense of normality, and support an everyday sense of purpose and usefulness by sharing gardening together. Who knows the extent of benefits that a sense of wellbeing can bring and not just for the aged person but also for the friends, family and staff who will be sharing the experience. This is something we can show works and hopefully influence other communities to dare to change as well.
Anything else you would like us to know?
I have always been a country kid who has lived small country towns. I wouldn’t have it any other way. There is so much going for little communities that look out for each other. I’d like to be part of keeping that alive into the future. I have 6 grandchildren. It won’t hurt to show them that food can be grown from our own plants. I believe projects like this can also show them the value of small acts of kindness, of showing respect and sharing that can bring joy to everyone involved. What better way to show we are part of someone’s home than to grow plants in the gardens and share some food together. I don’t mind getting my hands dirty and this sounds like fun.