This project evaluated the impact of a high rise independent living arrangement on workers, service-users and jobs.
The Crowle Estate is a high density apartment development located in the City of Ryde, Sydney. The development is the result of the sale of Crowle Home and its surrounding land owned by Achieve Australia – a community housing and disability service provider – to development company Deicorp. Crowle Home had been a home and school for children with intellectual disability since 1952. Crowle Estate represents a significant shift from the sites’ days as a residential care facility, with some of the original Crowle home residents now living in their own apartments on the new development.
While Crowle Estate is otherwise a typical housing development, Achieve Australia has retained twenty-two of the platinum-level accessible apartments to launch a new model of housing for people with disabilities.
The project set out to explore the changes for front-line staff, residents and the organisation resulting from the move from the group home to a supported apartment living environment. Questions included: (1) the impact of apartment living compared to group home accommodation, (2) how staff could support community integration in the new mixed tenure environment, (3) the role of the built environment and technology in supporting both independence and support provision (4) staffing levels and (5) facilitating person-centred active support in high rise living.
Understanding these changes required qualitative research with both staff and residents. Research had been undertaken previously in the group homes where residents lived during the transition as the Crowle Estate was being built. This enabled a comparison of ‘before’ and ‘after’ situations, while use of the same academic research partner (UTS) facilitated continuity of analysis.
The new apartments do not have bedrooms for staff to sleep in, removal of sleepover shifts was expected to create more personalised supports in a home-like, non-institutional setting. The ‘salt and pepper’ style integrated living was designed to reflect the housing options available to all, to embrace diversity and to support opportunities for social connection and participation that may not be possible where SDA accommodation is separate from other types of accommodation.
The Crowle Estate’s high rise apartments are a new and innovative form of disability accommodation. Achieve is keen to understand both service-user and workforce experiences as it proceeds with the development of new housing complexes.
Staff interviews revealed what was valued about their new workplace and what they felt was aiding or hindering the quality of support they could provide. Their perspectives highlight an important aspect of any residential space: the extent to which, and in what way, the physical space and building design influences the social relationships of those living and working there.
Overall staff are finding that residents are calmer, happier and have better wellbeing – which in turn improves job quality and organisational functioning. Some have made close friendships for the first time. However, workers commented that the large site is complex and more difficult for both staff and those living there to navigate. Simply navigating the lifts, security, car parks and walkways can make it harder to leave the apartment than in a single story dwelling where the garden is ‘out the back door’. Support workers responsible for supporting several people found navigating the Estate and providing active support complex. Workers valued the Estate’s safe environment but some were concerned about the emergency evacuation procedures, made more complex across multiple levels and with support being shared across a number of apartments during the nights. They acknowledged that risks were low, however appreciated additional training in this area.
Staff also shed light on the extent to which the nature of the built environment can help or hinder the community integration to which Achieve aspires. Interviews revealed that staff work very hard to make the days and activities of those being supported a happy, engaging and participatory experience. But the days of a support person are very busy, and there is a high level of administration tasks – which staff feel can limit some of their active support decisions in the afternoon.
People’s attitudes and funding can influence how people make use of space. Service-users who had one-to-one support were most able to avail themselves of outdoor spaces and regular walks. Some staff felt that the slightly reduced size of apartment living areas limited socialising within the Achieve community. Conversely, families commented that the attractive personal spaces the apartments offered were much more suitable to celebrating birthdays than group homes had been. One family said that they visited more than they ever had since their family member moved into Crowle Estate.
The project’s research demonstrates that staff observations about the logistics of doing active support is important intelligence that can be acted on to improve the service-user experience. The detailed issues they encountered as they move around the Estate indicate areas where training may be needed, or adjustments to access and spatial design.
Recruiting interviewees required a bigger investment of Principal Researcher time than anticipated. A proactive strategy to winning worker trust was eventually successful:
I attended team meetings and went to the staff Christmas parties. Actually I have really enjoyed building the trust and connection. I have some fabulous rich data too… I have worked hard for every interview!
Large posters featuring a picture of the researcher were also used to introduce the project to workers and families and set people at ease. Eventually, the target of 20 worker interviews was exceeded, with over 35 hours of in-depth interview data gathered from 27 people. Some 25 service-users and/or family members were also interviewed allowing fruitful comparison of the perceptions of the two groups.