New South Wales – A new way of living

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Pioneering Kemira community provides homes for adults with intellectual disabilities and their parent carers

New South Wales

Photo: Christine Harrington and her daughter Narelle are next-door neighbours in the Kemira community. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)

For most people, living next door to your parents would be a nightmare. But not for Narelle Harrington.

The 37-year-old lives with an intellectual disability. Today she’s getting ready for the week — sorting out her calendar and spending money.

They are skills she’s learning to master at her home near Wollongong in New South Wales. Luckily, her mum is not too far away.

« I can do it by myself now, » she said. « I can do stuff on my own, without mum with me. »

Narelle’s mother, Christine, is her primary carer and lives in an adjoining unit.

« It’s just amazing. I’m watching her develop so well next door, » she said.

It’s a unique arrangement that benefits both. Importantly, it allays one of Christine’s greatest fears.

Narelle Harrington in her home at the Kemira community in NSW

Photo: Narelle Harrington says she can’t imagine living anywhere else. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)

Narelle and Christine live in Kemira, a new kind of community administered by IRT Communities, a large operator of retirement communities and aged-care residences.

In an Australian first, Kemira provides a home for adults with an intellectual disability and their parent carers.

It aims to solve a difficult challenge: what to do when the parent can no longer look after their adult child with a disability.

« When I do go, Narelle might be a lot older, » 66-year-old Christine said.

« For her now to have her future planned here, and she doesn’t have to move … I can really relax. »

Future planning part of Kemira model

Christine is reassured in part because of the way leases are structured at Kemira.

The person with an intellectual disability is the primary tenant and it’s their name on the lease. Carers are listed as co-residents.

All tenants complete a future planning document when they move in that sets out what happens if the parent carer can’t continue for any reason.

The tenants can choose to stay for the rest of their lives, if they wish.

Nathan Hardy sits at his laptop as mum Leah looks on

Photo: Leah Hardy is hopeful her son Nathan will learn to live independently. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)

For Leah Hardy, the certainty of knowing her son Nathan will be looked after is a huge relief.

« We really didn’t have any idea what was going to happen to Nathan, » Leah said.

Now 61, she admits she had started to worry about what would happen to 35-year-old Nathan, who lives with an intellectual disability.

« He knows he did the lease. So I said to him, ‘You’ll never have to leave. This is your home and you’ve got it for life’, » Leah said.

« And hopefully by the time something does happen with myself, he’ll be quite independent, I feel. »

Learning to live in your own unit

The Kemira model is so new it’s not easy to categorise. It straddles three categories: aged care, independent living, and disability accommodation.

There are 12 villas on site. Six have one bedroom each, allowing tenants and carers to live near but not with each other.

Six villas have two bedrooms, allowing tenants and their carers to live together.

Carrie Dickinson speaks with residents at Kemira

Photo: Carrie Dickinson speaks with some of the residents of Kemira. (ABC News: Norman Hermant)

The goal is to encourage the tenants with an intellectual disability to live as independently as possible.

« It’s about teaching them to live in their own unit, teaching them everyday skills, » support coordinator Carrie Dickinson said.

« They’re learning to cook and clean, and looking after themselves. But obviously if they need help they’ve got their carer next door to support them. »

The residents at Kemira make their own arrangements with care providers who come to help tenants with a disability, and take them out for group activities.

But there is a support worker on site, and a communal living space for socialising.

Crucially, there’s also a respite centre to help provide relief for parent carers and their adult children on weekends.


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