In January 2000, a group of professionals, all living in Naas and aware of their own ageing, came together to plan the type of environment they would choose to live in if they could no longer remain independent at home but did not need full nursing care. They decided that they might not be able to manage a three or four bedroomed house and garden but could easily manage a one bedroomed apartment if it were located in the heart of the town. They committed themselves to developing an alternative to institutional residential care for older persons and a model that would create a society for all ages.
Further elaboration determined that such a development should be within walking distance (for a person with arthritis, bronchitis, angina or similar, not an able-bodied individual) of shops and services and public transport. It had to have on-site intergenerational facilities, and had to emphasise what people could do rather than what people could not do: it would be about wellness rather than illness. Twelve years later, McAuley Place, in the former Convent of Mercy in the heart of Naas, consists of:
The development incorporated the United Nations Principles for Older Persons from the very early design stage, aiming to ‘maintain the optimum level of well-being, physical, emotional, mental psychological and spiritual’. It was designed to the highest standards to ensure that there would be no sense of institution at McAuley Place and that people would want to move there, not dread moving there. The letting policy prioritises people from the local community so that there is informal support from long-established friends and neighbours.
The development places huge emphasis on opportunities for lifelong learning and the arts are central to this policy, ensuring social inclusion for tenants and for the wider community. Local artists can exhibit, and sell, their work in the lobby and the display is changed regularly. The Arts and Culture centre is used by the community for music, dance, film and other activities. The Community Centre hosts a wide range of classes, courses, and events, and the building includes a sound-proof music room.
Nás na Ríogh Housing Association Ltd has received national and international recognition and President Michael D. Higgins, visiting McAuley Place on 13 June 2012, stated that it should be used as an exemplar nationwide.
Funding and costs
NnRHA is a voluntary and not for profit organisation and has charitable status. Apart from invaluable statutory funding, the costs in developing McAuley Place were minimised by the incredible dedication and commitment of the Board of Management of Nás na Ríogh Housing Association. The support of the local community, in the form of financial contributions and incredible voluntary work, was pivotal to the development. Along with a dedicated staff of 8, more than 50 volunteers are registered with NnRHA, enabling wage costs to be kept to a minimum. The Tea Rooms and hire of the Community Centre also help to make McAuley Place financially sustainable.
As the next stage in the continual development of McAuley Place, a Health through Learning Centre is being planned. The Health through Learning Centre will be a “hang out” rather than a “drop in” space for young and old, offering opportunities to renew and make friendships, to meet with other members of the community, to create and engage in lifelong learning. The lobby area will be similar to the lobby in a hotel, where people can sit and watch the world go by. From there they can enter the creative spaces where hands-on courses such as weaving, flower arranging, basket making, and wood-turning will be taking place, or go into the conservatory, or the secluded garden beyond. It will also provide older persons whose only weekly outing may otherwise be just a few hours in a day care centre, with the opportunity to spend time in a calming yet creative environment. It will also be a unique and innovative tourist attraction.
McAuley Place incorporates the aspirations of the Department of Health Positive Ageing Strategy and was developed according to the United Nations Principles for Older Persons.