McAuley House's early success

The house warmings are over, the rooms are full and life at the new McAuley House in Pickett St, Footscray, is going well. In fact, it’s better than that according to McAuley Community Services for Women CEO, Jocelyn Bignold, who believes the move into the new $11 million house has already brought the hoped for outcomes.

“McAuley House is an overnight success. By its design, the building has contributed to women’s wellbeing and independence – exactly as it was intended to do,” Ms Bignold said.

While staff are pleased with some of the cultural shifts, some qualitative analysis will soon be undertaken to support observations and anecdotal evidence.

Some of the main changes in the past two months have been around personal well being and cooking. Each resident has her own room with ensuite and can shower in privacy. In the former McAuley House, women used to share a common bathroom block, which meant walking around the hallways in pyjamas and with toiletries in hand, often bumping shoulders with another resident. Shared bathrooms can be difficult to cope with at the best of times, all the more so when women were not feeling well; at times, they didn’t even try.

Also evident is a greater sense of peace and happiness. “We are receiving fewer reports of conflict and confrontation amongst residents because they have various spacious and light living areas to go to; there are no straight corridors; and their own rooms are especially comforting,” Ms Bignold said.

The two kitchens have brought some surprising changes for staff and residents. Previously staff had been cooking daily for 15 residents. The new McAuley House has a large kitchen on the fourth floor and a smaller kitchen, with domestic sized ovens, on the first floor. Most women are now choosing to use the smaller kitchen to cook for themselves, with each other,or sometimes with staff supervision. Only a handful still need meals cooked for them. A more structured training program around cooking is being developed to nurture independence and equip the women for life after McAuley House.

“This is what we were working towards, but it has happened naturally and the women are driving the change. The kitchen space is welcoming and the residents want to cook. Some women are cooking for their visitors as well,” Ms Bignold said.

One woman recently ran a movie and pizza night, organising ingredientsso that residents could make pizzas together and then enjoy a movie. Other women with personal food requirements will cook on the weekend and then freeze meals for weekdays.

Another benefit of the larger building and more space is the socialization amongst residents.

Ms Bignold said staff will soon undertake some qualitative analysis to support the observations and anecdotal evidence. In 2014/15 McAuley Community Services for Women conducted a review of McAuley House (Flemington Rd), interviewing current and past residents. The review found that:

  • A women’s only space was important to them and to their sense of safety.
  • Valuable aspects of the program included the support, friendship and companionship and that the social and recreational program improved social skills and confidence, which was important to their ongoing recovery.
  • Case managers were also highly valued for their practical and emotional support.
  • Respondents reported improvements in their mental health and wanted more attention on their physical health.
  • Most respondents felt adequately prepared for semi-independent living and wanted to see an expansion in the independent living skills program and support and encouragement to gain work (this was before the resumption of the McAuley Works program).
  • Past residents reported a high level of satisfaction with their physical environment, social lives and relationships with family and friends and an increase in their self-awareness and self-development

A Quality of Life Questionnaire, adapted from the World Health Organisation, gave a rating of how women felt over a number of domains such as health. This questionnaire will be repeated to track any changes or trends.