‘Virtual village’ proposed

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A new way of thinking could strengthen services and opportunities for older people in Central Otago, those behind a ‘‘virtual village’’ proposal say.

Pam Jones talks to some of those at the coalface who are determined to respect and provide for those of retirement age.

An ‘‘innovative’’ project that would provide much-needed support for older people is seeking government funding to get started, community leaders have announced.

The ‘‘virtual village’’ would provide a framework for people to ‘‘live as if they were in a retirement village, but in their own homes’’, Alexandra Community House manager Carole Gillions said.

It would see existing services and new ones in Alexandra turned into a more formal network that people knew about and could access more easily. Later, it is hoped the concept will spread to other places in Central Otago such as the Maniototo and Teviot Valley.

The idea has come from an Age Focus Group set up after a community hui organised by the Alexandra Council of Social Services earlier this year because of the urgent need to address several issues in the district, including the accommodation crisis.

Three focus groups were set up following the hui, to explore community action on issues relating to age, housing and diversity.

The age focus group has applied for $10,000 of funding from the Ministry of Social Development to set up and implement the virtual village in Alexandra over two to three years.

An existing organisation would govern and manage the initiative, which would eventually operate as a ‘‘self­funded community collaboration’’.
The ‘‘virtual village’’ concept, also known as ‘‘a village without walls’’, is an international idea set up for the first time in New Zealand last year in Auckland.

Ms Gillions said many things were already provided for older people in the Alexandra district, but, reminding people of those services, and bringing in ‘‘some new things’’ would hopefully provide more support through the virtual village.
‘‘It’s not about building new facilities, it’s about accessing social opportunities, bringing in a model of care and support for people in their own home. It’s encouraging people to live in their own space, but providing them with some additional social connections. It’s a way to re­create our community, the old-fashioned ‘leaning over the fence noticing the curtains haven’t been drawn up’, that kind of stuff, in a really closely connected, fully functioning village atmosphere.’’

Alzheimers Society Otago Central Otago community support officer Donna Watt said New Zealand’s ageing population, increasing rates of dementia and loneliness and lack of support for carers were significant issues felt acutely in Central Otago, which had a higher proportion of older people than the national average. The lack of dementia and respite services was particularly serious and more were desperately needed.

However, proper consultation with families and providers was needed before new facilities were built, and options other than traditional ward-style dementia facilities should be investigated, Ms Watt said.
When asked about Leaning Rock Village’s proposal for a retirement village in Alexandra, Ms Watt and Ms Gillions said a rest-home and dementia unit should be ‘‘vital components’’ of any new facility for aged care, and they hoped health and social service agencies would be consulted about what a village could provide.