For many farming families ‘they’ll have to carry me out of here in a box’ is a familiar refrain. Farms are passed down from generation to generation and with it, a way of life that becomes an entrenched identity. But what happens in the years between when the farm becomes too much to handle but the will to stay is greater?
Helen Morton from Pingelly, Western Australia is determined to see our older generation or people with a disability stay where they belong - in their own home, until the end of their life.
Years in the making, Helen is now the project officer for Staying in Place. The program is designed to allow older people to remain in their community, surrounded by the people they know and love.
As with many of our rural communities, the tiny town of Pingelly in the Wheatbelt region is facing a typical problem. Despite the Wheatbelt producing 41 per cent of the state’s agricultural commodities, more than a quarter of the population is aged over 65 and the number is growing faster than any other metro, urban or regional area in WA.
The aging Pingelly population has no hospital, aged care facility and very few home care services available. Faced with a difficult choice, many people are forced to leave town when they need care services.
Central to Staying in Place, Pingelly Virtual Village has been established with a coordinated, vetted and trusted volunteer network and buddy system. A concierge service is a strong social connector and makes use of a monitoring system for any possible risks.
With countless surveys and a royal commission into aged care, Helen says the Pingelly Virtual Village has been the answer so many older residents were crying out for.
"People actually want to stay in their own homes connected to community, family and friends and life, until the end of life,” she says.
“They don't want to go to residential facilities if they can get out of it."
As is the case in so many Wheatbelt communities, and rural towns across the country, Pingelly has a high rate of volunteering out of necessity. The SES, the fire brigade, transport, the shire counselors, even the local newspaper, are all run by volunteers. Now, Helen and her team of community champions are also pitching in to keep their oldest members in their circle.
“The previous federal minister for aging told us that the wheatbelt of Western Australia was the hardest area to provide services to,” Helen says.
“The traditional models of aged care do not work here and they require a critical mass of people but the Pingelly Virtual Village is absolutely perfect for what we have in mind here in our model.”
Instead of building fences or walls, the village is building general community awareness and understanding of how older people can have an enriched life in Pingelly.
After years of investing time, energy, money and emotional input into their communities to ensure they thrived, Helen’s determined to make Pingelly’s older generation feel valued, supported and cared for in return.
“If people can choose to stay in their own place until the end of life, they end this loneliness and disconnection,” she says.
“I’ll just reiterate again that people just want to be able to stay in a community that they identify with, that they love, amongst their neighbours and often lifelong friends who look out for them, and close to their families.”