As part of our campaign to promote and protect Benambra, Sally wrote an article for the ACT Council of Social Services (ACTCOSS) newsletter, which you can read below.
Benambra: An Intentional Community
Co-Designed by the Getting a Life Family Governed Group, Housing ACT, Disability ACT and Hartley Lifecare Inc
Benambra Intentional Community was completed in May 2013 and consists of 25 public houses located in Alsop Close Phillip.
The development of the Intentional Community was a long time in the designing. It started as a vison and goal for three families who each have a son with a disability and was realised in collaboration with two government departments, Housing ACT and Disability ACT and a community organization, Hartley Lifecare.
Benambra Intentional Community was officially opened with much celebration from all involved by the Governor General Ms Quentin Bryce on 22nd May 2013.
Several years ago, we, the families of Jackson, Daniel and Ben, three young men in their 20s, started planning and designing a place for our sons to live, each in their own homes. The plan was to build and then create a ‘community of intent’; a place where all the residents including Daniel, Jackson and Ben could feel a sense of belonging; where all residents experience that warm feeling of living in a safe, welcoming and friendly neighbourhood. We wanted each person living within the complex to acknowledge each other and offer practical support when needed.
None of the families wanted their sons to be in a disability specific house or to live together in a group house. We did not want the place our sons were to call home to be congregated or segregated from the non-disabled community.
This was very much a family driven project from the beginning through to its final realization. Jackson, Daniel and Ben are now all living in Benambra with support and are settled amongst a supportive environment in their own home. The young men and the other residents in the Intentional Community all know each other, greet each other and socialise at bar-b-ques, music sessions, afternoon teas, working bees and parties. In developing this community we have given each resident ‘permission’ to offer and receive friendliness.
The families and others continue to build community capacity.
Housing ACT were open to new ideas and opportunities to expand the social housing options in the ACT. They listened to us (the families), read our business plans and after some years agreed to fund the building of Benambra. They also worked with Housing ACT tenants to facilitate the transition of families interested in living in a friendly and caring environment to express an interest in moving to the Intentional Community.
Housing ACT brought to the project its talented and experienced staff, its knowledge of and skills in building public housing and its expertise in working with the ACT Government, architects, builders and project managers and tenants.
Hartley Lifecare is a Canberra-based organisation that has provided accommodation support and respite care for children, adults and their families in the ACT and region with physical and complex disabilities for 50 years.
In addition they are an organization who will listen to people with disabilities and their families and who will take calculated risks to support innovative projects and ideas.
With the Intentional Community Hartley worked with the three families and with Housing ACT to develop and implement a model of support unique to the ACT; that of co-residency. They have also provided a support role in the development of the ‘community’ around Jackson, Daniel and Ben.
Much valued funding for the new model of support was negotiated with and provided by Disability ACT.
Why co-design worked
This project was new to all involved and each person, department and organization learnt, grew and adapted as the project progressed and developed.
Its success is a testimony to co-design involving each of the four partners, with each bringing their expertise to the table but at the same time being respectful of and listening to the others. There was a strong sense of collaboration and partnership during the entire process. Each partner acknowledged the skills, expertise, needs and constraints of the others and each took time to understand the concept of working with, rather than doing for.
Each recognized that the concept of an Intentional Community with the co-residency support model was unique and had the potential to:
- Give 25 individuals or families, including three young men with a disability, a home in a friendly welcoming community
- Give three young men with a disability autonomy and a chance to contribute to their community
- Be a landmark development that encompassed best practice on person-centeredness
- Be equitable, cost effective and repeatable.
There is more information here: www.gettingalife.com.au