Taunton Mills and the art of a strong residents’ council
By Kristian Partington
On a Thursday afternoon in August, the Town Hall is packed in The Village of Taunton Mills. You’d be forgiven for thinking upon arrival that some sort of performance is underway, for the gentleman at the microphone in front of the gathered audience of residents and team members speaks with the easy charm of a natural Master of Ceremonies.
But a performance or ceremony this is not; it is the regular monthly residents’ council meeting, chaired by the man at the microphone, president Gordon Carter.
The residents’ council in any long-term care or retirement setting is a vital connection between the home’s operations and the day-to-day reality as seen and felt by those who live there. Some councils are extremely active while others have a little more difficulty finding their voice; Taunton Mills, it seems, leans more towards the former if the 70 or so people in attendance is any indication.
There are reports offered by respective team members focused on recreation, leisure and mealtimes, and welcomes offered to new residents who arrived during the previous month. Each is offered an opportunity to share a little about themselves, but a shyness seems to come over the new arrivals that makes me think of new new kids in school during the first assembly of the year. There’s a farewell to a loved team member, a treasurer’s report and a lot of laughter as Gordon facilitates the meeting’s agenda.
But beyond the lighter conversations this is also a place for people to talk about challenges, and the unscheduled maintenance of one of the village elevators, which has caused varying levels of frustration among some residents, inevitably comes up. And yet, despite the frustrations, the conversation and questions are respectful as general manager Noella Black thanks everyone for their patience and explains the reason that things haven’t moved as fast as people would like. The audience is happy to hear the problem is nearly solved, and with some well-timed humour, Gordon keeps everything moving along.
At the end of the meeting I catch up with secretary Eleanor Andison, who is known to offer short seminars during the meetings on a topic connected to the history of the region around the village. It’s a means of attracting people, she tells me as the meeting devolves from a more formal affair to a collection of people chatting over wine and cheese in the town square.
I ask her what the secret is behind an effective residents’ council, and we joke that the wine offered afterwards may be a contributing factor. Then Eleanor explains how the teams within the village do a wonderful job of offering residents meaningful activities throughout the month and many of the residents attend council to contribute to decisions about future events. The village also connects to charities and provides opportunities for residents who so desire to support others outside of the village. All of this is up for discussion at residents’ council, and there is always room for more ideas.
“No matter what you did in your former life, if you want to continue or you enjoyed it, you can,” Eleanor says. She was a librarian and loved doing research, for example, and she’s able to continue that part of her life during her historical seminars.
“It all contributes to you being active,” she says, “and then you get all the news of what happened where at residents’ council, and you have your chance to say something if you’re wondering.” At Taunton Mills, a lot of people choose to have their say, and that’s one of the village’s greatest strengths.