Is this the kind of place I would like to grow old in?
Resident Ann Clarke with the ‘Tea Lights’ installation by artist Jennie Moran at McAuley Place, Sallins Road, Naas. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
Resident Donal Burke in the front garden of McAuley Place, Sallins Road, Naas. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons
What kind of place would I like to grow old in? This was the question that Margharita Solan and a group of professionals living in Naas, Co Kildare asked themselves 12 years ago.
The question propelled the group towards a vision of independent living apartments for older people set in the midst of an arts and community centre where people of all ages participate in social and cultural activities.
They then purchased the former convent on Sallins Road, Naas and through fundraising and government grants have developed 53 independent living apartments in the original building and a new block to the rear.
“The aim of McAuley Place is to bring older people to the heart of a vibrant community, the focus is on community and not on the older people,” explains Solan, who worked as a nurse for years and now works full-time voluntarily at this positive ageing centre.
Not a disease
“Old age is not a disease so there are no doctors or nurses on the premises. But, because the building is in the heart of the town, medical care is always easily available,” she adds.
The energy efficient units, almost all of which are now occupied, cost €95 per week for people aged 65 and over. Preference is given to people from Naas or returned emigrants from the area.
Each apartment has a fully equipped kitchen and adapted bathroom, and residents bring their own furniture to the bedroom and sitting room.
One resident explains how she feels about living here. “My husband died and I felt this would be a nice place to live. Nobody tells me what to do. It has everything and is beautifully run. I do whatever I want and see my family very often.”
The incorporation of an arts centre and a community centre into the development has been of central importance, according to Solan.
If You Were In My Shoes Now, a year-long arts project in which 50 people aged from five to 86 years made pairs of felt slippers, recently spawned an international seminar celebrating intergenerational creativity.
Originally known as Nás ni Ríogh Housing Association, the development is now called McAuley Place.
Opening up over time
At 66, Benny Forte is one of the youngest residents.
“A few people will shut themselves away in the beginning but they open up over time. We have bingo, movie nights and whist. There is a security van which goes around at night. I stay in touch with the older residents and see if they need anything,” he explains.
A secondary and primary school occupy the space behind the housing units which means the sound of children echoes throughout the day.