News & Events

Blokes create welcoming space

August 17, 2016

Leith Park resident Maurie Schneider

The blokes at Leith Park may be low key about their group activities, but the value of their gatherings is significant. As evidence emerges about the importance of social connections, especially as people age, the push to create spaces and groups for men and women across OCAV’s four villages gains momentum. And it isn’t just the fit folks who are in on the action.

Leith Park’s monthly men’s barbecue and fortnightly men’s group at Liscombe House’s aged care facility are providing opportunities for men, at all stages of health, to engage in conversations and activities that might not appeal to women. It also provides a great network for men, who come into the village alone, or whose wives have died since joining the Leith Park community.

Maurie Schneider has been coordinator of the monthly men’s barbecue lunch for a couple of years. He says the monthly get together of men has become a bit of an institution on the social calendar at Leith Park. It’s an opportunity for many of the men to get together socially.

“It really is a great chance for men to get together because it can be very hard for some people to get out and about alone once their wife dies. Some people are reluctant to join in with activities, but for the men, the monthly barbie is a good relaxed outing particularly if they are alone,” he said.

However, research shows that not everyone is as connected as they would like to be. According to beyondblue, nearly a decade of annual survey data shows that the number of Australians feeling lonely is increasing over time. “In any given year, one in 10 people will experience a period of loneliness. Building and maintaining good social connections at any age is important, but as people get older, the risk factors for experiencing loneliness increase. Having meaningful contact with other people and being part of a community can help you feel more positive and avoid loneliness,” according to beyondblue’s Connections matter publication

Between 10 and 15 percent of older adults experience depression, and approximately 10 percent experience anxiety (National Ageing Research Institute. (2009). Depression in older age: a scoping study. Final Report. Melbourne: beyondblue).  This study also found that rates of depression among people living in residential aged-care facilities are believed to be much higher, at around 35 per cent.

This growing body of knowledge prompted staff at Leith Park’s aged care facility to start the fortnightly men’s groups. Support by volunteers, Lifestyle Assistant Adrian Onofrio, encourages men from Liscombe House’s high and low care and dementia units to join the group – and many do. Activities are designed to engage the men, regardless of their state of health and agility. The current project is the setting up of an extensive model train kit that has been donated by the family of a resident.

“The train set, which we are currently building and which will be going soon, has created a lot of discussion amongst the men, which is great. It means that there is something that everyone can be part of, including the build. We built the table for the set, the hills and now the transformers have arrived,” Adrian said.

“As well as the train work, the men participate in a variety of activities such as games, discussion groups and we have presentations of things like racing pigeons and a talk and show about toy cars. The contribution of volunteers is vital for the running of the men’s group.”   Once the men’s group finishes each fortnight, most of the men join in for a happy hour.

There are 80 residents at Leith Park’s aged care facility and only 16 are men. About 12 of these men come to the men’s group but numbers ebb and flow depending on health issues or other commitments. Adrian believes the men’s group provides an important service for men to discuss things they may not want to discuss in the various recreation spaces shared with women.

Many of the Leith Park independent living residents may progress to one of the aged care facilities and the culture of developing a space for men is considered a priority. Maurie Schneider can certainly see its value.

“Being part of the monthly barbecue lunch gathering certainly leads to other friendships and helps make people feel part of this terrific community. It’s important to be able to spend some time with other fellas,” said Maurie, who, along with his wife, Rosie, moved from nearby Eltham into one of Leith Park’s 118 independent living units almost six years ago.

Maurie, 82, recently had to hang up his apron because Rosie has been unwell, and he is now on the lookout for a ‘young and fitter bloke’ to take over the monthly barbecue lunch.

Dorothy Clayton has felt very much ‘at home’ since she moved into Braeside Park nine years ago. Now, Dorothy, the village’s volunteer pastoral care worker, tries to ensure that others also feel a sense of belonging in the Berwick village.

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