Crowle Estate: new apartments offer people with disability a home to call their own

Lola Constance and Ross Madden, two of the 36 people with disability who live in specially-designed units at the Crowle Estate apartment complex in Ryde. Photo: Fiona MorrisA sun-filled, spacious apartment with a generous balcony overlooking a park is the dream of many Sydneysiders.


The realisation of that dream is especially poignant for Ross Madden and Lola Constance, who moved into their new apartment eight months ago at the Crowle Estate residential development in Ryde.

“It’s quite good, isn’t it,” Mr Madden said. “It’s a lot better than the old house we used to live. I don’t miss it.”

A research project Crowle Estate: Beyond the Group Home, conducted by the University of Technology, Sydney, will test whether units equipped with innovative technology and built within apartment complexes represent a better solution for people with disability than group home accommodation.

Mr Madden and Ms Constance are two of 36 people with a disability living in 22 specialist disability accommodation units scattered among the complex of 490 apartments built on the grounds of the former Crowle Home – a large residential centre in Ryde that housed almost 50 people with disability until its closure in 2012.

They were both long-term residents of Crowle Home, which was set up by the Sub-Normal Children’s Welfare Association in Ryde in 1952 as a residential facility for children with intellectual disabilities.

Ross Madden and Lola Constance’s apartment will be equipped with technology tailored to their needs. Photo: Fiona Morris

The death and illness of some of the children’s parents meant they remained living at the site, which turned into a facility for adults run by disability services provider Achieve Australia.

Chief executive Anne Bryce said the home had reached the point where it did not comply with Australia’s international obligations and laws regarding the rights of people with disability.

The facility was located within fenced and gated grounds, cut off from its neighbourhood, while residents such as Mr Madden and Ms Constance were forced into regimented routines such as communal eating times, segregated male and female living and had limited privacy.

In contrast, Mr Madden can share a home with Ms Constance where they can cook and eat when they like and entertain friends.

Their new apartment has spacious rooms, and a hall and doorways wide enough to manouevre a wheelchair. Kitchen benches and light switches are also positioned to ensure ease of use.

The apartments, each worth about $900,000, were funded by the sale of the 4.5-hectare Crowle Home site for $32 million to a property developer.

Ms Bryce said the Crowle project is designed to provide a new option for people with disability to lead an ordinary life.

“At Crowle the people with disability we support have their own apartments,” she said.

Each apartment will be equipped with technology tailored to the needs of each resident.

Ms Bryce said this included seizure mats on beds that report to a support centre, sensors that recognise movements and can identify changed routines and emergencies and apps that allow residents to easily control the temperature and light of their home.

For Mr Madden, who needs assistance with personal care, showering and dressing, the large bathroom allows two carers to assist at the same time.

Ms Bryce said the cost of providing services around-the-clock in specialist disability accommodation ranges from $125,000 to $500,000 a year and is met by the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

“In Crowle we hope to prove that with the scale of the site we can deliver services with a similar cost to a group home,” Ms Bryce said.

Patricia O’Brien, a board director of Achieve Australia and professor of disability studies at the University of Sydney, said group home living tended to isolate people with disability from their surrounding community.

“People may be accommodated in the community but location, type and size of accommodation can run counter to facilitating social inclusion and the building of social connections with neighbours, making of new friends and strengthening of family connections,” she said.

The Crowle Estate model was designed to encourage social inclusion by giving people with intellectual disability the opportunity to live in the same residential estate as non-disabled peers, Professor O’Brien said.

“Spreading a number of such apartments across a commercial development ensures that people with disability can take their place in mainstream society as equal citizens with the same level of choice of where they wish to live.”