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March 5, 2024

The elders came back: Byron crowd celebrates win for aged care village

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Don’t cross these elders – six of the audacious eight former Feros Byron Bay residents. Photo Tree Faerie.

At least one former resident of the former Feros aged care village in Byron Bay, now known as George’s Cottages, is getting ready to move back.

St Andrews Village Ballina CEO Todd Yourell says the elderly resident has been living in the Feros centre in Bangalow since Feros announced its withdrawal of services in Byron Bay last year.

The resident is to join seven who never left the Marvel Street cottages, with an eighth resident having passed away within days of St Andrews taking over management late last month.

Let the music play

A crowd of elderly residents and supporters turned up at Marvel Hall on Sunday to celebrate a community win for aged care in Byron PIC: Mia Armitage

Around 80 people gathered in Byron’s Marvel Hall on Sunday to celebrate the village being saved for its original intended purpose of aged care.

The site sits partly on Crown Land and the NSW government issued a tender for expressions of interest in new management late last year after a sustained community and legal campaign.

The now defunct group, Friends and Family of Feros Residents, hosted the event with renowned local music artist Gyan serenading the residents and their supporters after a series of speeches recounting the extraordinary experiences shared over the past year.

As well as complaints of inadequate food and building maintenance, Sunday’s crowd heard how Gyan tried to bolster the residents’ spirits with a private show last year but gave up when Feros management denied her entry.

Speakers at Sunday’s event included comedian and federal Greens candidate Mandy Nolan, Greens Member for Ballina Tamara Smith, Byron Mayor Michael Lyon, Byron Shire Councillor and Byron based lawyer Mark Swivel, who acted on behalf of residents, and St Andrews Ballina CEO Todd Yourell, as well as Friends and Family of Feros Residents founding member Maree Eddings.

Ms Eddings said group members had learned more than they had ever anticipated about Australia’s aged care system but she hoped others were taking note.

‘We’re all going to get old one day,’ the community leader said.

Ms Smith said she felt ‘quite teary’.

‘I’ve watched these elders in their eighties and nineties take on this huge task when they should just be enjoying their life and their home,’ the Ballina MP said.

‘We stuck together,’ says elderly resident

Kate Smorty speaking in Marvel Hall 11 Feb PIC Tree Faerie

Kate Smorty is in her nineties and has played a key role speaking on behalf of residents who refused to leave the village.

‘I feel as if a big, black cloud has been lifted off our shoulders, we can actually relax because it’s been very difficult to maintain our rage,’ Ms Smorty said.

The elderly resident said the group of eight ‘had no intention of leaving’.

‘We all stuck together, that was the main thing’, she said.

Renovations well underway as St Andrews invests in Byron

Kamaia Harkness (L), daughter to Alan Harkness (R), who says he wants to move back into ‘George’s Cottages’ PIC: Mia Armitage

Mr Yourell told the crowd a new resident would be moving into the village on 15 February.

Several attendees participated in a tour of the village with Mr Yourell, who showed off recent renovations in one of the four ten-bed cottages, part of an initial $3 million St Andrews has pledged towards the village.

Mr Yourell says renovation has also started on a second cottage and that all four will be upgraded over the next few months to include services such as a pan washing room and embedded smart technology for both entertainment and nursing services.

He praised the visionary architectural design of the complex, saying it was thirty years’ ahead of its time in terms of features included that are now considered the benchmark in accommodation for people living with dementia.

The cottages are all ground level and connected by sheltered walk-ways, with plenty of natural light and lush gardens visible from the rooms.

Each cottage has separate outside access and a kitchenette to complement a communal dining area.

An example of one of four ‘George’s Cottages’ for aged care in Byron Bay PIC: Mia Armitage

Another former resident, 93-year-old Alan Harkness, arrived in his wheelchair on Sunday to say he wished to move back in too, having spent several months at the Feros facility in the Tweed Shire’s Womin Bay.

Sunday’s crowd heard St Andrews, a non-profit organisation, also wants to create opportunities for the village to include elderly residents at risk of homelessness.

Mr Yourell said he wants to negotiate an arrangement with the state government to facilitate up to half the village’s beds being made available for the most vulnerable elderly.


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