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Sharing a Sense of Community

30 May 2016 at 10:14 am
Staff Reporter
Phillip Wohlers is CEO of the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria (OCAV), a leading Not for Profit retirement village provider offering a continuum of care from independent living, assisted living and aged care in Victoria. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Staff Reporter | 30 May 2016 at 10:14 am


Sharing a Sense of Community
30 May 2016 at 10:14 am

Phillip Wohlers is CEO of the Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria (OCAV), a leading Not for Profit retirement village provider offering a continuum of care from independent living, assisted living and aged care in Victoria. He is this week’s Changemaker.

Phillip WohlersOCAV was established by Victorian founding fathers including George Selth Coppin, a member of Parliament and philanthropist in 1869.

The association’s first village was located in Rushall Park, North Fitzroy after the government of Victoria gifted an acreage of land. Today their four villages in Berwick, Euroa, North Fitzroy and St Helena are home to 500 older Victorians in need.

Wohlers, who has worked in the NFP sector for more than 15 years, has overseen some of the most dramatic changes that have taken place in the almost 150 year history of OCAV.

In this week’s Changemaker he talks about developing a vision, an organisation and a team that provides a quality service that enriches the lives of the residents.

What are you currently working on in your organisation?

I am investigating strategies to expand affordable community housing options for older people. One of the biggest challenges facing OCAV is the demand from ageing Victorians wanting to join one of the four communities. The waiting list at Rushall Park in particular is more than six years, with 400 people on the list. I believe OCAV has a social responsibility to try and offer more accommodation as the population ages.

To that end some major developments are underway at Leith Park in St Helena where 49 new units are being built and the first stage is expected to be under way later in the year. At Rushall Park 35 new units will be built on land, which runs along the railway station, and construction is likely to start in 2017.

What drew you to the Not for Profit sector?

The culture, and to be with people who want to make a real, positive difference to the lives of others. I have an accounting background and most of my career, before OCAV, was in an industry where money was the focus. Coming here was a chance to focus on people and working to make their lives as fulfilling as possible.

What was your first job in the Not for Profit sector?

Finance Manager at OCAV.

What is the most rewarding part of your work?

Watching people’s lives change for the better. Moving into our community often as isolated/depressed individuals to developing friendships and becoming an active part of a vibrant community. Working here is about relationships between staff and residents, and relationships within the community of residents. The way we have established the villages encourages a sense of community – we have no fences. There’s a sense that people have their own privacy, but they are part of a shared community.

The personalised approach is the culture of care and supporting people to live fulfilled and happy lives. One important aspect is the daily “check-up” on every resident. It’s not intrusive and might be just a knock and a “hello, are you OK today”, but it means the world to residents and to me.

When a resident comes into an OCAV village we recognise that they are leaving their home and community and that is very, very hard for some people. We have a buddy system and when they first come to us we touch base with them very regularly to ensure they are settling in.

The culture also impacts on staff. Staff turnover in the industry is traditionally high. At OCAV the average term of employment is between 10 and 15 years.

What has been the most challenging part of your work? And how do you overcome that?

A lack of understanding at policy level of the specific needs of older people in regard to urban planning, housing and housing design. What is being done, or not done, to address the growing need for housing/care for the elderly.

To overcome this, we are taking a greater role in advocating for older people which includes talking with politicians, the media, at conferences and to the many people who are interested in our approach to working with older people.

I consider my greatest achievement to be…

Developing a vision, organisation and team that provides quality service, one that enriches the lives of our residents and stakeholders.

I am confident the OCAV model has something to offer the broader sector and I would like to see the organisation’s influence expand within the industry.

Something is definitely working with OCAV bucking the trend on some important indicators. The average age of entry to a retirement village is 73 and OCAV’s is 77 years. The average length of stay is seven years and at OCAV it is 10 years.

People want to be a part of what we offer here. It’s a good life for everyone – residents and staff. OCAV is a happy, vibrant place to live and work.

Favourite saying…

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent

Through your work, what is your ultimate dream?

That all elderly people, irrespective of the financial situation, have access to quality, affordable housing and care in an environment which fosters independence and community.

My greatest challenge is…

To deliver on my dream

What does a typical day for you involve?

I am up reasonably early, take the dog for a walk, breakfast and if heading direct to the office usually arrive by 7.30am. My day generally consists of meetings/conversations with external bodies, new/existing residents and my team, with some time set aside to consider and develop strategy.

My evening generally involves preparing dinner for family (cooking is a passion) and enjoying conversation.

What (or who) inspires you?

I am particularly inspired by our residents; their resilience, strong belief in community and willingness to help others. I also get inspiration from our volunteers. We want to increase the number of volunteers across the four villages from 140 to 200 people. A culture of volunteering enhances the lives of residents, often encourages them to volunteer in the wider community and brings the outside world into the village.

Where do you feel your passion for good came from?

My mother who, despite being a single parent, always found time to help out in a range of community activities and my former CEO who, whilst running a multimillion dollar business, devoted countless hours at senior/board level to charities and NFPs.

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