Community-run aged care home chalks up 25 years

A once derelict orphanage in South Melbourne is this week celebrating its 25th birthday as a community-run, not-for-profit aged care home.

The bluestone building just off Clarendon Street served as the St Vincent de Paul’s Girls Orphanage for more than a century.

It closed its doors in 1965 and four years later, the site was returned to the Crown and fell into disrepair while its future was determined.

Napier Street Aged Care Services board chair and former mayor of South Melbourne and Port Phillip, Frank O’Connor, said after the nuns had moved out, the squatters and pigeons moved in.

“Heritage cast-iron balustrading, doors, light fittings and large slabs of slate roofing disappeared,” Mr O’Connor said.

“Squatters lit fires using the Baltic timber floorboards and the chapel became a pigeon-rookery.”

But residents banded together to fend off a series of inappropriate proposals for the site, including demolition to make way for a freeway.

“The local community was galvanised and energised by various struggles – particularly the campaign to stop a freeway bisecting the suburb – so the proposal to set up an aged care hostel engaged many people, including me,” Mr O’Connor said.

“As a South Melbourne councillor, I understood there was a desperate need for aged care locally so members of our community didn’t have to relocate to far-flung suburbs away from family and friends when they became old and frail.”

Napier Street opened in 1993 with 42 beds, of which 26 were concessional. The other 16 had to lodge a refundable bond of up to $40,000. Within two weeks, every bed was occupied.

Twenty-five years later, it has 62 beds, after another wing was added in 2010. On-going palliative care is offered.

“Napier Street has survived despite the odds because it has been community orientated and supported, has good staffing policies, strong leadership and doesn’t exist to generate profits for shareholders,” Mr O’Connor said.

The chapel, once home to pigeons, was converted into a spacious day centre in 1997.

Up to 50 local residents come in for activities up to three days a week. Participants include people with mild dementia and men from local boarding houses who are part of a men’s program.

The aged care home's history is captured in By the community, for the community: The story of Napier Street Aged Care Services by local resident Adair Bunnett. The book is available for $24.95 from local bookshops and $35 (including postage and packing) from Napier Street Aged Care Services.


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