Older people are VIPs in Mount Barker

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If you live in the Great Southern, be very proud of volunteer-run organisation Empowering Plantagenet Seniors. The centre, located on Memorial Road, Mount Barker is committed to providing a safe and friendly meeting place for its local older people.

Their team is dedicated to making sure older people in their community have the support and information they need to live their best lives. Advocare heard about this fabulous not-for-profit organisation from local Advocate, Christine, who visits the centre once a month to chat to people about protecting and asserting their rights as older people.

Volunteer coordinator, Sue Etherington has been the driving force behind Empowering Plantagenet Seniors (EPS) since it formally began in August 2020 – the year COVID ruled our consciousness. Sue, who’s also a Councillor with the local Council, heard via another Councillor that older people were self-isolating and losing touch with their community during this challenging time. What could be done?

It started with a single idea around delivering groceries to older people during COVID. The CEO of the local Co-Op agreed to supply a team to pick the groceries if Sue could supply the volunteers to deliver them. A real community need was recognised and ‘Empowering Plantagenet Seniors’ was born with the assistance of the Mount Barker Legal Service setting up the legalities with Sue as the coordinator.

In 2020, an advert went in the local paper inviting older people to an Open Day. Sue said they originally expected 30 to 40 people to the event, but ended up closer to 100, having to turn people away due to the venue’s size.

Advocate Christine and Sue at EPS Christmas celebrations
L-R: Advocare Advocate Christine and Coordinator, Sue at the EPS Christmas celebration

Amazing support and growth in three years

Since then, EPS has gone from strength to strength charged up on the enthusiasm of more than 18 local volunteers and the generosity of local businesses like the Mount Barker Co-op, Bendigo Bank, generous local farmers and fruit-growers, and Pardelup Prison farm’s veggie garden.

Thanks to the EPS, regardless of whether they’re living at home or in residential care, local older people can now take part in low-cost activities like tai chi, craft sessions, seated exercise classes, bingo, movie afternoons, morning teas and lunches, and Sunday roasts once a month. This centre is the heartbeat of the community for Mount Barker’s older people.

“They’re people who are very independent and find it difficult to ask for help – like most older people. Then one day, they realise that the people who’ve supported them in the past are also getting older and can’t do it anymore. They’ve got to turn to someone else and we’re happy to offer that.”

Addressing local issues in Mount Barker

A few regular issues come up for older people that Sue and the team encounter. Transport is one of them with many older people in Mount Barker spending most of their budget on getting around to medical appointments, to do shopping and so on.

Aged care accommodation is also really limited, so many local older people end up going to Albany, which means they more easily lose contact with their friends and family. And then if you create more services, how do you attract workers to the region if they can’t find a place to live?

“Housing in particular is a real problem.  Same everywhere – there’s no housing!”

Sue says, “Why can’t local or state government put aside some land around here and build a stack of those ‘tiny houses’? They’re quite good. And that’s all that most of them need, just a one-room place.”


Other wishes for the future

We asked Sue, what was their one big wish for the centre.

“My wish would be a dedicated seniors centre. A lot more room! We’re struggling as the activities get more popular. We’ve already converted an existing spot in the current venue to an exercise room thanks to a donation from our local Bendigo Bank – they’re brilliant!”

In particular, upgrading the current kitchen arrangement is high on the wishlist as it presents a daily challenge with all the cooking and food preparation going on to feed their visitors.“Stainless steel benches would be a real bonus. The generosity of the community has helped over the last few years to purchase freezers, fridges and large ovens but we’re running out of space and preparation areas.”

Sue added, “We’d absolutely love a cool room and freezer room, too.”

“At the end of the day, all we want is to help our older people in town to be the best they can be and live the life they deserve!”

Do you want to be part of the EPS story?

Donating to EPS, whether it is in the form of funds, groceries or other goods is most appreciated.

However, if you can’t donate, the team at Empowering Plantagenet Seniors is always on the hunt for local volunteers to join them. If you can spare a couple of hours a week, contact Sue Etherington at EPS on 0417 949 081 or email: president@eps.org.au

You’ll find Empowering Plantagenet Seniors (EPS) in the Lesser Hall behind the main Plantagenet Hall at Lot 250 Memorial Road, Mount Barker.

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Sue and some of the volunteer team celebrating their year at EPS