In 1995 St. John of God, Menni Services identified a growing need among a number of people who avail of the service. The number of elderly people availing of the service had grown quite significantly as a result of an improved life expectancy and because many of these service users age prematurely. Especially in the Enterprise Centres, staff noticed that some service users began to ‘slow down’ and a number of them were unable to keep up with the work they used to enjoy and excel in. These people had two things in common: they were all between 50 and 62 years of age and they had all been with the service for more than twenty years. Most of them had worked in one particular centre for that length of time.
A number of months were spent discussing, reviewing and trying to bring some structure to the various alternative programmes that could assist these people. Eventually the pre-retirement project was launched in 1996. It builds on the strengths of the existing relationships and prepares the participants for their retirement. This article is an overview of its history, current developments and the future requirements.
History and Purpose
As mentioned above, the focus is primarily on the individual and his or her abilities and needs. In a way it continues what was already in place (e.g. friendships and work-orientated skills) and it endeavours to assist people in this new phase in their lives.
However we had to develop admission criteria for the participants and the right location was crucial. So when an opportunity arose in 1996, Menni Services jumped at it. The building is located in Ballyfermot, within walking distance for most of the participants. Project Uasal was formed (Uasal means ‘gentle’ or ‘respect’ in Irish.) Initially the project provided a day service for six people on a part time basis (2½ days per week). Over the last three years it has grown steadily to a day service for 15 people, with more than 10 people attending 3 days or more per week.
The programme endeavours to provide a comprehensive service with a focus on personal development, community skills, leisure activities, pastoral care and home management. The leisure activities are very diverse and range from dancing and drama to bowling. The core vision is that the participants gain a better understanding of one of the most important transitions in their lives.
In 1999 the entire set-up, goals and achievements of the project were reviewed and discussed by a Study Group who made a number of recommendations regarding the future of the project.
The first major change was a name change. Since 1 January 2000 the service is no longer a project but a programme, changing the name Project Uasal to the Irish word for honourable (Uaisle). Uaisle is not considered to be something temporary; it is identified and addressed as a permanent and essential part of the service provided by Menni Services.
Another major change was the establishment of a small in-house enterprise to produce aromatherapy products. This developed from the wish of most of the participants still to be involved in some kind of enterprise activity.
The Study Group also made a number of recommendations regarding the future of this part of the service, as summarised below.
Looking into the Future
Along with other significant developments within a comprehensive service to people with learning disabilities, such as quality management and supported employment, the Retirement and Pre-retirement Programme is considered to be a rapidly expanding development.
It is envisaged that within Menni Services alone the Retirement Programme will grow to 25-30 people within the next year, and another 15-20 will enrol in the Pre Retirement Programmes at a local level. These two groups are clearly distinct from each other. However the needs of individual service users, not chronological age, determine whether they are considered to be at a Pre-retirement or Retirement stage. For some people, the ageing process is much faster and commences earlier.
In order to provide a high-quality service for this programme, Menni Services are currently investigating the possibility of acquiring a more suitable premises and within the next year we hope to set up a pre-retirement course for local centres.