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Reviving and reshaping Wharekaka’s elder care

November 3, 2023 November 2023 No Comments

Mayor Martin Connelly makes the Bingo call at Wharekaka on October 1 – U.N. International Day of Older Persons.

When Wharekaka closed its residential and hospital care programmes early 2022, trustees of the facility hoped for a reprieve for the 50-year-old elder care centre.

At the time its governing board hoped the meals-on-wheels programme would continue and said the attached elderly villas would continue. Financial challenges meant an extra $400,000 a year was needed to keep the deteriorating buildings up to scratch, and nursing shortages meant the hospital facility would close.

Eighteen months on, the Wharekaka complex has become the 18th retirement village under Masonic Lodge management across the North Island (Te Ika-a-Maui).  

Masonic Lodge operations manager Nick Merrett said the group is “very familiar with running retirement village living all around the North Island,” and hinted at both reviving and upgrading the Wharekaka complex.

“What we intend here is to provide more (villa) accommodation at some point, but at this stage we are still getting used to the community here … so we haven’t got into details yet.”

“The community here are really engaged – and have always been engaged with Wharekaka – so we appreciate that engagement and making us so welcome. 

“We’re doing a bit of work in this space to allow other community groups to come in and use it.” 

Merrett told The Star that development of the site is on the radar, “but we really haven’t got that far in our planning.”

But “one question we’re asked is about re-opening the rest home (facility), but that won’t be possible,” as the environment which led to the closure is still prevalent.  

Re-opening would, under the present compliance schedule, include a rebuild “as the building is not fit for purpose any more. There are a lot of things (regulatory requirements)  that it fails on.

While it hopes to expand the current number of villas on the complex “we don’t have any (detailed) plans yet.” 

“We certainly will be looking at providing more accommodation,” she said. “We provide a range of accommodation, including rentals, within our other village frameworks – so we’ll be considering what the options are.”   

“For the community the meals-on-wheels provision is an important aspect of providing people with a hot meal during the week – so that’s a really important contribution … which is widely supported by the residents of Martinborough, and by groups in Featherston and Greytown.”

Merrett said both the commercial kitchen and meals-on-wheels contract with Te Whatu Ora had been key elements of continuing the meals programme.

“As an organisation one of our aims is to support local communities and here, it’s really strong. “

“The residents are pleased. They like to see a person (at events), they like the improvements we’ve made already … they’ve been really receptive, really good.”

Trish Bradshaw, rehab coach from Laura Ferguson Trust, said a programme of events has begun in the former Wharekaka dining room, after Masonic Lodge made it available.

“The idea is just to get people together,” she said 

While about 20 people were involved in the morning bingo session, Trish said “we normally get about nine people, weather-dependent, illness, so it’s just a matter of getting the word out there.

“It’s building that trust to get out – and meeting people, it’s a social thing.

“We have a happy hour on a Thursday, so people can come along, as these people are normally on their own. So they can get out and do things, it’s great.  

They want to come, to make it and there are regulars who want to come every week. This (programme) has been successful,” she said to a background of chattering voices and clacking teacups.

“This is also about Matt (Wilson) getting back into activities as well. He has a brain injury so we want to help people resume (normal lives) again. That’s what it’s all about.” 

She also thanked the Masonic Lodge staff who helped provide the former Wharekaka dining room  area for the programmes.

Matt Wilson, recovering from injury and helping Bradshaw develop the project, said the activities are “keeping the place alive, still being used … instead of it being empty.”

“People come here, they share, play a bit of bingo – they’re looking after each other.” A weekly happy hour sees people bring a glass, a nibble or two and “sit down and talk about what’s happening and what people are doing.”

He said once Wharekaka rest home closed, “we decided this place (the dining room) has to be doing something, we want to keep something happening.”   

First it was bowls, then bingo. Now the group hopes to get local business involved in supporting activities and that the council will consider a community board grant for the programme’s development.

Mayor Martin Connelly got a widespread “yes” from the group when he said that “United Nations older persons day (October 1) should be 365 days of the year, as I think just one day of the year is not quite good enough.”

“And if we’re all here in a year, that will be worth celebrating,” he said, adding “I’m hoping to come back then and call bingo again.” Laughter ensued.

Director of the Office for Seniors, Diane Turner said: “Older people have a positive impact across Aotearoa New Zealand and this event (U.N. International Day of Older Persons) gives us the opportunity to celebrate this (impact).
“By 2034 there will be 1.2 million people aged 65 or above in New Zealand – just over a fifth of the population. International Day of Older Persons is a great opportunity to acknowledge the many ways older people add value and enhance our society.
“A growing number of older people are healthier, more educated, more engaged in their community, more skilled and are living longer. These are all things to celebrate,” she said.  

U.N. Living Facts:

The world is changing. It’s getting older, rapidly. By 2030, one in six of us will be 60 or above. In countries like Japan and Italy, that figure becomes one in three. Imagine how different society will look and feel with a third of us being older. A huge change is coming.

#OlderNotOver is a three-year campaign by HelpAge International that will champion a fuller, more authentic portrayal of what life really looks like after 60.

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