Abbeyfield House was designed to create a community for seniors, not merely somewhere for them to live, according to Abbeyfield House board member Joan Carson.
“That was the whole idea, to make this like a home, to have a community,” Carson says of the non-profit supportive housing residence designed for single people. “We had one fellow in here and he said, ‘I didn’t have family but now I have nine brothers and sisters.’ You know, that’s the kinds of relationships that end up being built here — there’s strong relationships between the people.”
Located at Eighth Street and Pidcock Avenue in Courtenay since it opened its doors in 1997, Abbeyfield House features 10 individual bedroom/sitting room suites, with their own TVs, bathrooms and patios, and furnished with residents’ own belongings. The kitchen, dining room, and sitting areas are common spaces. Quilted projects made by residents hang on the walls and adorn the tables in the dining room, small pets are allowed, residents can help make supper, or not, as they choose, and the same goes for helping out in the garden.
Carson says it’s designed for people 55 and older who want to maintain some independence but don’t want to live by themselves.
“It suits an individual who maybe is no longer able to care for a home or wants to care for a home, but wants kind of a family feel,” says Carson.
Carson notes residents are allowed to come and go as they please, with no need to sign in or out. Staffing is low, with one full-time staff member who cooks, among other things, plus some relief staff and a person who lives in an upstairs suite in case of a nighttime emergency.
But, overall, residents care for themselves; for example, health-care workers will come to Abbeyfield to provide services to residents, but those residents are in charge of booking their appointments.
Abbeyfield Houses are established in many communities. Originating in London, England, the first Abbeyfield House in Canada opened in 1987 in Sidney, B.C.
The Church of St. John the Divine fundraised to construct the Abbeyfield House in Courtenay but the home is now operated by an non-profit and non-denominational society with seven community members sitting on its board.
Though Carson says the society has quietly provided this housing service to seniors in the Comox Valley since 1997, the Abbeyfield now needs to increase its community profile.
“Most people don’t even know we exist, never mind knowing that they can donate to us, that we are a charitable organization, that we do give tax receipts, that you can give your points at Quality Foods to Abbeyfield,” she says, noting Abbeyfield doesn’t receive operational funding from government and survives on housing fees from residents ($1,650 per month all inclusive) and the occasional community donation.
“We have always done well, but the cost of living has gone up, everything has gone up, and now we’re at a place where — at one point say for example, six rooms (occupied) would keep us going and we would still have a reserve, (now) we have to have all 10 full in order to keep going.
“Now we face putting a new roof on in the foreseeable future. Do we have a slush fund for that? No.”
Board president Mary-Ann McCrea is in the midst of applying for a federal grant from the New Horizons for Seniors program, in order to redo the kitchen.
She notes Abbeyfield is the only non-profit seniors supportive housing option in the Valley, and besides the minimal staff at the house, the volunteer board essentially operates the home.
Resident Lucie Stuart, who is 88 years old and has lived at Abbeyfield for a number of years, says she’s enjoyed her time there so far.
“I think it’s marvellous,” says Stuart. “I like the atmosphere, the food’s marvellous…company’s good.
“It’s nice because you can be independent to a degree — I have a caregiver who comes every day and makes sure I behave myself, (laughs), but we go walking and so on, and I don’t get lost.”
Stuart also looks forward to activities offered, like movie nights, games, crafts and listening to local musicians who volunteer to perform at Abbeyfield.
For more information about Abbeyfield House Comox Valley, visit www.abbeyfieldcomoxvalley.ca. For information about how to donate e-mail Mary-Ann McCrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.