Uniting Church builds a community, not just a home

rowallan park openingA unique Uniting Church development aimed at empowering and supporting young people with disabilities and their families was officially opened at Kingston, in Tasmania last Friday morning by Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman.

VicTas moderator Rev Sharon Hollis attended the opening ceremony and led a worship service at Kingston Uniting Church on Sunday 31 July.

The Kingston Uniting Church’s vision is not just to provide a roof over the heads of the residents but, more importantly, to work in partnership with them and their families to offer tangible support and a day-to-day connection.

It is a model that encourages residents to see themselves as equal partners in building their own society on site.

Anyone can get a house built but developing a community takes much more time and effort.

It is a challenge the congregation has readily embraced, according to Kingston minister Rev Colin Gurteen.

“There is always the risk of the church ‘knowing’ what everyone needs and, at times, doing it for them without developing a relationship with people to ensure that what we believe is really what is required,” he said

Speak to the parents about what has transpired since the first resident moved in last year and they talk of their children expressing a growing sense of personal optimism in the future, which did not seem as clear before the development.

“It is beautiful,” parent John Coyle said.

“There is real warmth you feel here. As a family we have been embraced fully. I feel so welcome and so does my daughter, Bridget. She has a real sense of being at home.”

The residents reside in four one-bedroom, two two-bedroom and one four-bedroom residences built on the three-acre Rowallan Park site.

A $2.8 million grant from the federal government’s Supported Accommodation Innovation Fund (SAIF) helped the community achieve their vision. The design and construction of the new building has achieved federal government platinum status for disability housing and sets a new level of inclusion for people with disabilities.

A worship space and community centre have also been constructed on the site, as well as a manse for the minister. Future plans include affordable housing for retirees and those on low incomes or other community services.

For many years, the church has supported young people with disabilities through a range of programs and that relationship was the catalyst to create the inclusive community.

Mr Gurteen said the congregation had received great support throughout the development from the Presbytery of Tasmania’s Resource and Development committee, the Property Board of the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, a skills-based Project Control Group as well as the state and federal governments and the broader community.

“We could not have done this without the support we have received from outside the church.

Everything we have achieved has been consistent with our vision of working with the broader

community,” Mr Gurteen said.

“For this project, we have developed those relationships at every step. This has included engaging with the residents and their families, development professionals and agencies (which provide the residential support and management) so it has been about a partnership and not just the church.”

The church’s endeavours are supported by Possability, which provides support services to residents, and UnitingCare Tasmania.

Recurrent funding from the State Department of Health and Human Services enables Possability to undertake its work and National Disability Insurance Scheme support is provided to some individual residents.

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