The Pulse of the Kitchen in Hagey Neighbourhood

Open servery a welcome gathering place at University Gates

By Kristian Partington

“I really like your kitchen,” I tell Joan, a vibrant bundle of energy that lives in the Hagey neighbourhood of The Village at University Gates.

“It’s really quite beautiful, isn’t it?” she replies. “It’s got everything you need, see,” and she proudly holds up the two coffee cups she’s carrying in her hands. Joan then tells me she’s lived in this place for years and she loves the kitchen best of all. I go with it, knowing that Joan’s timing is a little off as the village has only been open for less than five months. Hagey is a neighbourhood where residents living with memory loss make their home, you see, so each resident has a slightly different grasp upon their current place in time and space.

Joan wants to know who I am, this fellow with a notebook and pen in hand. “I’m a storyteller,” I say, “and I’m here because I heard about the lovely kitchen and dining room you have.”

This meets her approval and she reminds me again that she and her friends have all they need in the kitchen; then she laughs and tells me that she, too, is a storyteller, and I believe her.

Joan’s take on the kitchen, however, is something the team members are happy to hear. When University Gates – a 192-bed long-term care home on the north campus of the University of Waterloo – was built, the open kitchen concept was incorporated into the design of a couple of neighbourhoods, Nagey being one.

It’s important to note that as Schlegel Villages has grown and built new villages, the organization has embraced the neighbourhood design, meaning that smaller groups of residents live together and are supported by team members that are mostly specific to each neighbourhood. However, the team members in food services are still pretty much removed from the neighbourhoods, preparing and cleaning up after meals in large kitchens in the basements. The kitchen in Hagey, however, presents an opportunity to integrate at least some of the food preparation and cleanup right in the neighbourhood. The final piece of the puzzle was the installation of an industrial dishwasher to meet regulatory requirements and now, residents can be found alongside team members cleaning up after meals or preparing mid-morning snacks if perhaps they slept late that day. The kitchen in Hagey is, in many ways, the focal point of the communal living space in the neighbourhood, as is the case in many a Canadian household.

Before Ashley, a team member with food services who spends all of her time in Hagey, begins serving ham and split pea soup for lunch, she takes a few minutes to share her thoughts on the impact of the kitchen space.

“It’s a lot easier and it’s nice to be up here as an extra pair of eyes,” she says. “The residents love to join in and because I’m up here, they can help with dishes or setting tables while others (team members) are helping other residents.

“It’s full hands on deck – it helps me and it helps everybody.”

And while it’s still a bit early to be certain, the comfort of the kitchen might be contributing to a greater sense of contentment among residents. Those who want to be more hands on are able to and thus, are feeling busier and more purposeful.

“There aren’t a lot of expressions,” Ashley says, referring to the way in which some people living with various forms of dementia may deal with feelings of confusion or anger. “I’ve noticed there’s a lot of happiness, the joy of helping even, and a sense of empowerment.”

For the past three years, Ashley has worked closely with older adults living with memory loss and when she’s reminded that January is Alzheimer’s Awareness Month, she smiles and considers the many misconceptions that permeate society today.

“A lot of people think they’re tired and they just eat and want to go to bed, but they’re full of life, they’re full of energy and they want to help,” says Ashley as she heads back behind the kitchen island to begin final lunch preparations.

Team members and residents alike weave in and out around her, setting tables and finding places to sit. It’s a bit chaotic, to be honest, but everyone’s smiling and the air seems filled with positive energy. It’s the pulse of the kitchen, I think – cozy, chaotic, comfortable, as is the case in many a Canadian household.