Cowra Retirement Village celebrates its 30th birthday

A group of people with vision and Cowra’s community spirit received special praise at the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Cowra Retirement Village on Tuesday, March 6.

“As we look back at 30 years today we are thankful to those who saw the vision and made it possible that this village would grow and become a valuable asset to the community of Cowra,” one of the original and current board members Neville Pengilly said during a ceremony at Bilyara on Tuesday morning.

Current Bilyara chief executive officer Scott Kable said the hostel’s history is “a great story and a great testament to those who were able to get it up and running.”

Mr Kable pointed out that there are 82 residents at the Cowra Retirement Village and 114 staff, making it one of the top three employers in Cowra.

The complex also includes self care units and a dementia care unit.

“Today is a great occasion, a fantastic effort for a relatively small stand alone not for profit organisation like this to get up and running,” he said.

Special guests at the celebrations included Arnold Spackman, original and current board member Neville Pengilly and Kevin Wright.

Former chairman and steering committee member Arnold Spackman and the village’s oldest resident Joan Gay, who turns 104 next week, officially cut the celebration cake.

“Current Bilyara Board chairman Ian Donges recognised the contribution of recently retired chief executive officer Ray Harris adding “I am sure there are lots of exciting things we can do in the future”.

“As chairman of the board, it inspires me to look where we are going next and what we can do to provide for our community.

“I’d like to acknowledge the work of Ray Harris who recently retired after 18 years, which is a really long stint, the commitment in his life to this organisation was always a big part of why we were able to achieve so much in the past,” Mr Donges said.

Outlining some of the history of the Cowra Retirement Village Mr Pengilly, one of the original board members, said: “Towards the end of 1980 the two masonic lodges of Cowra moved towards investigation of provision of the frail aged accommodation needs of Cowra”.

“By October 1981 they found that such a project was beyond any one organisation’s capabilities,” Mr Pengilly said.

“A public meeting was called for on Sunday, November 29, 1981, the type of accommodation required was determined to be a hostel as it is today as Cowra already had a 75 bed nursing home which is Weeroona and 16 self care units which were Bellevue Lodge.

Representatives of the Freemasons Benevolent Institution (FBI) and the United Protestant Association (U.P.A.) addressed the meeting. The F.B.I pledged to support the concept with a donation of $120,000.

“The local Masonic Lodges were asked to raise $30,000 and local business, organisations and residents to fully support the concept. They were the conditions of the $120,000 coming forward.

“We were asked to form a steering committee to investigate if the concept had sufficient support to meet the financial involvement required.

“Six months later on the 29th of September 1982 a second community meeting was held and about 150 people were present to hear a facility would provide a 40 to 49 bed hostel;  that approximate cost would be somewhere in the vicinity of $1.2 to $1.4 million and; a board of management be formed to represent the community.

“It took six years of really hard work to bring about commencement of the work to build in 1987.

“During that time many made valuable contributions were made.

“For me the name Arnold Spackman stood out. He gave a lot of his time driving the project and was very much involved in working around many problems.

“It was a great day in 1988 when the federal member for Gilmore Mr John Sharp opened Bilyara.

Mrs M Tuffin was the first to take up residence on February 11, 1988 and by February 18, 15 residents were in permanent residence.

Mr Sharp officially opened Bilyara on March 6, 1988.

“That day was very special to me personally for not only had the committee achieved its goal but it had seen many individuals and groups working together to achieve the end result from right across the community,” Mr Pengilly said.

“Always this hostel has been based on a tremendous amount of community effort and funding.

“Across the 30 years that have now passed the board of the Cowra Retirement Village has recognised the demand for retirement living.

“Self care units providing one or two bedroom have been built and additional land has been acquired for further expansion.

“In a sense we have covered right through the period of people moving in here from self care, looking after themselves but having people there to support them if they need it, through to the hostel that we enjoy here this morning, and then on to dementia care where people require that extra care.

“It is wonderful that we have been able to provide all those services.

“It took us all this time to get there and a lot of hard work and money but we achieved it,” Mr Pengilly said.

Speaking on behalf of the residents Jim Skinner gave a word of thanks to all who have contributed to Bilyara over the past 30 years and continue to do so as employees or volunteers.

“We need to be very grateful, it must have been a tremendous job to get this whole thing going and to keep it going,” Mr Skinner said.