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Church pioneers integrated facility for children, seniors

Church pioneers integrated facility for children, seniors
St John’s-St Margaret’s Church. Photo: Wee Teck Hian

Church pioneers integrated facility for children, seniors

Nursing home, childcare and senior centres to be built at St John’s-St Margaret’s Church

SINGAPORE — In a ground-breaking initiative, a church in Dover is to build an integrated facility housing a nursing home, a senior day care centre and a childcare centre on its grounds.

St John’s-St Margaret’s Church came up with the idea to foster inter-generational life four years ago, when it was exploring the extension of its land lease with the authorities, and was told to “intensify” the use of the land it sits on.

“(While reviewing the land lease), we were given the option to intensify the land use by constructing a nursing home on it,” the church’s vicar Joshua Sudharman told TODAY.

“As this was in line with our commitment to serve the needs of the community, we agreed to give it due consideration.

“As we deliberated over how best to utilise the land ... we felt inspired to serve not just the elderly, but also the very young. 

“This would complement our existing community services.”

Due to be completed in 2020, the facility in St John’s-St Margaret’s Church is expected to benefit 273 nursing-home residents, 100 other seniors in its day care centre and 200 children at the childcare centre.

Co-locating facilities is not something new.

It is increasingly common in new Housing and Development Board projects, aimed at maximising opportunities for inter-generational interaction.

St John’s-St Margaret’s Church’s initiative — dubbed Project Spring-Winter — is, however, believed to be the first such ground-up programme.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will co-fund the cost of constructing the eldercare facilities, the church told TODAY. The rest of the development, estimated to be S$47 million, will be borne by the church. It will raise funds to pay for the land lease renewal and other construction work.

To date, it has raised about half the amount, mostly from churchgoers, with some support from members of the public.

When open for operations, the nursing home in the church will serve mainly subsidised patients, who are referred or admitted by the Agency for Integrated Care.

Fees will be charged in line with the MOH’s norms and affordability guidelines, said the church.

The church will run the kindergarten/childcare services and operate the eldercare facility in partnership with St Andrew’s Mission Hospital. Programmes will be designed to foster “a conversation between generations” and provide “opportunities for the elderly and children to interact daily and naturally”, said Mr Sudharman.

A glimpse of how these services could operate when they are ready, was showcased in a heartwarming seven-minute video on the church’s website. The clip features four groups of seniors and children chatting about various topics including their ambitions, hobbies, and what it feels like to be in each other’s phase of life.

“Through our planning and research, we were convinced that people of different generations can learn to appreciate each generation’s value and dignity if they were given opportunities to bond and interact in close community.

“On the surface, such opportunities could be a games session, physical exercise or sharing of a meal. We expect to create many such opportunities through our inter-generational programmes,” Mr Sudharman said.

As plans began to take shape, the church sent a team comprising members and consultants from an architecture firm to gather best practices from similar facilities abroad.

Among those they drew inspiration from was Providence Mount St Vincent in Seattle, United States, a 300,000 sqft facility shared between nursing home residents and children aged five and below.

There, teachers take their children to the residential floors to visit the seniors six times a week. Residents are also welcome to observe the classrooms, and activities that allow both groups to participate in are scheduled daily.

Occasionally, musicians come around and perform tunes for the young to sing and dance to along with their elders.

The church’s team also took a leaf from Kotoen in Tokyo, the oldest age-integrated facility in Japan, which incorporates a nursery/daycare centre, a nursing home and an elderly residence under one roof.

Inter-generational interaction is especially important in the “age-segregated society” we live in today, where generation gaps are widened with the advent of the Internet, said Dr Thang Leng Leng, deputy director of the National University of Singapore’s Centre for Family and Population Research, who was featured in the project video.

“For children especially, they will learn to improve their social skills as they gain empathy, compassion, patience and respect. For older people, the opportunity to meet children reduces their social isolation and also improves self-esteem. And families can be excited with the boldness that such interactions can bring,” said Dr Thang.

Ms Teoh Zsin Woon, the MOH’s deputy secretary for development, called Project Spring-Winter a “timely (and) innovative project”.

“We hope that the children will bring smiles to the faces of the seniors, and inject new excitement and meaning in their lives ... (and) the children will, in turn, experience the love from the seniors and grow up valuing our older generation. I hope (the project) will inspire the rest of Singapore to promote inter-generational learning because through this process, we can build a Singapore that is warm (and) closely knit,” said Ms Teoh.