On the edge of the acclaimed Peak District a classic English town, Poynton, tugs at the heartstrings of Stephanie Green. For her a walk to the shops once meant at least 14 stops for lingering conversations with neighbours, work colleagues and children from her schools. A business manager and bursar of a cluster of inclusion schools, Stephanie and her family had deep roots in the Poynton community.
Then in 2009 she left for Australia. Without friends and family and her green, hilly surroundings the mother of three felt lost.
“I was terribly homesick,” she says. “For six months I was desperately homesick,” she says in a quiet room at Sandybeach Community Centre.
Her husband Tim had accepted a senior position with biotechnology company CSL in Melbourne, immigrating five months ahead of the family while their daughters completed their schooling. Temporarily at the Docklands, Tim researched suburbs for their future home until he found one similar to Poynton - Sandringham.
In their Sandringham rental home for the first three months, while Tim focussed on work and her daughters continued their education, Stephanie found herself in a strange environment. She missed everyone, even her cat Lily, which she took in after a friend had found as a kitten about to be drowned. Arriving in Australia Lily was in quarantine for three weeks.
Stephanie would walk down to the beach feeling miserable and stare longingly at the horizon. One day she walked past Sandybeach Centre, and noticed a course guide tucked in an A-frame outside. She picked it up and read it. To her it was more than a guide, it was the path she needed to meet people.
She signed up for poet and author Claire Gaskin’s writing program. She recounts coming through the Sandybeach doors to beautiful, welcoming faces on the front desk. “The ambiance in the building and ethos in the place were palpable,” she says. “I just thought, yeah, this is for me.”
She completed more courses, followed Claire Gaskin to the Writers Centre, enrolled at Deakin University for her masters in writing and literature.
“So Sandybeach has really pushed me, but in a good way. It has also brought me a great community of colleagues and friends. I’ve had some wonderful experiences with Sandybeach,” Stephanie says.
It helped her return to work in disability and aged care, a sector close to her heart because of its inclusiveness. Coincidentally, Sandybeach was all about inclusiveness too.
When she noticed Sandybeach was applying for accreditation, she wrote a support statement, which subsequently was published in the Bayside Leader community newspaper. Highlighting inclusion and community, the statement struck a chord with the values the board was promoting, and led to an invitation for her to join the board.
A little reticent because of her increased responsibility at work, she nevertheless agreed, and has now almost completed six years on the board, including two dynamic years as board chair.
At Sandybeach she found staff and clients shared a love and belief in the place, yet something was amiss.
“What I used to say to staff members that we took on in aged care, it is a horrible thought to think that when you are showing people around an aged care facility you are actually in sales. Because you are selling beds. And that doesn’t sit well with a lot of people with their emotional investment in aged care,” she says.
“And I would agree with that, but how I would rationalise that was if we didn’t sell the beds we could not provide any of the warm and fuzzy for any of the residents. So we had to sell the beds. That was essential to providing everything beautiful that we wanted to give to the residents. And the same was true for Sandybeach,” she says.
A not-for-profit community service, Sandybeach still needed to compete as a commercial enterprise in a market place being pillaged by online providers and people under-cutting registered training organisations.
The board was looking for someone who held Sandybeach as the heart of the community and inclusion, but also had the business acumen and outlook to be commercially competitive. Stephanie believes they found that person in chief executive Sue Hart.
“The staff have been incredible because it has been a massive change process. Sue is an excellent change manager, but the staff have been equally magnificent in coming along, they have really taken on board what we are trying to do as a board,” she says.
Near Sandringham shopping village, Sandybeach Centre is not immediately obvious to people. This is gradually changing.
“Since Sue has been here we have made leaps and bounds, making ourselves known to people in the community, we have a brand new logo and brand new website,” Stephanie says. “We have a presence on Bayside Community Hub, a lot of staff will monitor that, make sure we always have a voice on there. We have raised our profile in the community. We are also reaching out to other community organisations, making sure our social capital is high.”
Passionate about her work and volunteering, Stephanie says husband Tim is a mentor and steadying influence. She says the number of people supporting an ever rising ageing population is a global challenge.
“We need to ensure everyone enjoys the final chapter of their life to the best of their abilities within the considerations they have to observe - health, finances, whatever,” she says.
“Behind every old person there is a young person who has had a vibrant life and a very valuable member of society. I think that gets forgotten, sometimes all we see is the old person and we don’t look behind that - but that person is still in there,’’ Stephanie says.