8 December 2023

'Mixed emotions' as sod-turning ceremony marks start of respite centre construction

| Claire Sams
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Six people standing together with shovels

Construction on a long-awaited respite centre for the Queanbeyan area has begun. Photo: Supplied.

A long-awaited respite care facility is a step closer for Queanbeyan residents with the start of construction.

The facility will be named Yvonne Cuschieri House and will provide care for Queanbeyan residents aged 18-60 living with a terminal or chronic illness.

Respite Care for QBN chair Paul Walshe was among those present at the sod-turning ceremony for the facility last Friday (1 December) and said it came with a bittersweet feeling.

“We know there’s a lot more work to do, but it’s wonderful to tick the first box and get this construction underway,” Mr Walshe said.

“It’s been a long, long journey with twists and turns.

“We’ve worked through COVID, through increased building costs and getting our approvals from council, and through working with government departments around grants.”

The campaign for a respite centre in Queanbeyan began in 2017.

“It was mixed emotions, in some ways,” Mr Walshe said.

“We basically started back in 2017 with a blank piece of paper, not knowing exactly what we wanted, but we’ve been able to define the sort of respite care facility we wanted to build.

“All the hard work over those many years to lobby governments, businesses, to encourage donations from the local community through our fundraisers, all came to fruition last Friday.”

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Queanbeyan resident Yvonne Cuschieri OAM proposed the idea after her son was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She and her husband became his carers.

Founder of the ACT Eden Monaro Cancer Support Group, Mrs Cuschieri provided financial support and friendship to more than 30,000 cancer patients and their families over three decades.

The support group is now known as Rise Above and assists about 700 patients at any one time.

While Mrs Cuschieri continued to push for a respite centre until her death in 2021, the charity she helped to launch continued the campaign.

“I must say, I did have some self-doubt along the way,” Mr Walshe said.

“We just seemed to be hitting brick wall after brick wall, but we found a way forward and have had the support of our two local members – Steve Whan and Kristy McBain – and their predecessors.”

The centre is expected to open in late 2024 or early 2025.

Mr Walshe said the next stage of the project was sorting ongoing funding for the facility.

“It’s going to cost approximately between $1.3 and $1.4 million a year to run it,” he said.

“There’s still a few things around that that we’ve got to sort out over the next four months or so.”

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Mr Walshe said the centre would benefit both carers and the ill person.

“Caring is not a nine-to-five job, and the carer hits a point where they need to have a break for their mental health,” he said.

“They need to be able to go away for a week or so.

“But to be able to give that carer a break, their loved one will need to be looked after in a respite care facility.

“It’s also about having the right environment for people when they’re in a respite care facility, so they’re around people in their own age group.”

Construction of the facility is being supported by $750,000 in funding from the Federal Government, $1.35 million from the NSW Government, and $250,000 from the John James Foundation.

Hands Across Canberra, Snow Foundation and Aspen Foundation have also contributed grants.

“I’ve been quite fortunate that we’ve been able to have them support us, as has the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council with the gift of a block of land in a 30-year lease,” Mr Walshe said.

The Federal Government will also provide an additional $1m to support the centre’s initial operations, which it pledged during the 2022 election.

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