Activ Foundation: Believing in people

Western Australia’s Activ Foundation has been supporting people living with intellectual and developmental disability for over 67 years, helping them enjoy full participation in communities and empowering them to pursue the life they choose.

CEO and Managing Director Danielle Newport joined Activ in 2011, serving in a variety of executive roles before becoming CEO. Currently serving on the national board of the National Disability Service, Ms Newport is passionate about supporting people living with disability and committed to improving the lives of Activ’s customers. Ms Newport spoke to The Australian Business Executive about the organisation’s courageous beginnings, how businesses and communities can help support people living with disability, and the benefits and potential of the government’s new National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Creating a better world

“Activ was founded in the early 1950s, here in Western Australia,” Ms Newport says, “by families who had children living with intellectual disability. They were quite exceptional people, who didn’t accept the status quo in the 1950s, and had the courage and vision to create a better world.” This fundamental belief in people continues to drive the company today, as it endeavours to support people living with disability to fully participate in their communities and pursue the life that they choose. “We have about 100 locations across WA, and we support approximately 2,000 people living with disability. We also support their families. So that’s a significant number of people, where we play a vital role in their lives.”

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More than half of Activ’s customers are employed through the company’s Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE), which provides products and services to commercial clients throughout Western Australia.  ADEs are organisations funded by the Department of Social Services and the NDIS, which offer a wide range of employment opportunities to approximately 20,000 people with moderate to severe disability across Australia. “We have 1,000 employees living with disability, and employment for people with disability is statistically significantly lower than for those without disability: 53% compared to 83%. I would like to encourage all businesses to think about how they can make their organisations better by including and supporting people living with disability.”
The understanding that diversity strengthens an organisation, driving better performance, is finally becoming widespread in the business world. Ms Newport is keen for every business in Australia to help improve inclusion for people living with disability.

Since joining the organisation in 2011, Ms Newport has seen a number of exciting projects that have made a real difference to the running of the organisation, not least her own appointment as Managing Director and CEO.

There has been a significant shift in attitude towards disability since the foundation was first formed, with the focus in recent decades being on the responsibility of communities in their treatment of people living with disability. “When we were founded, nearly 70 years ago, people probably thought about people living with disability in terms of how they could fit into our communities. What’s different now is that we think about how our communities can accommodate people living with a disability. We think about our communities being accessible and inclusive.” The sheer size and scope of Western Australia creates unique issues for organisations such as Activ, issues that don’t affect other states and territories across Australia and that the organisation works hard to combat.

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“Being a resources-based economy,” Ms Newport says, “we have some real challenges with the cost of doing business in Western Australia, which isn’t always reflected in universal pricing across Australia.” Another significant issue is the number of remote communities in the state, many of which have struggled to receive any support, not just for those living with disability, but for all disadvantaged members of the community. “We also suffer with remoteness from Canberra. We’re a long way away from our decision makers. That adds to our cost of business, but it also makes it more difficult to build those really effective partnerships and relationships with government.”

More than half of Activ’s customers are employed through the company’s Australian Disability Enterprise (ADE), which provides products and services to commercial clients throughout Western Australia.

Leveraging choice for people living with disability

Since joining the organisation in 2011, Ms Newport has seen a number of exciting projects that have made a real difference to the running of the organisation, not least her own appointment as Managing Director and CEO. “In 2016, we celebrated 65 years of our organisation, and in that same year we celebrated our first female CEO, which is a milestone in an organisation that wants to be inclusive and accessible to everybody. I think it was an important step.” A year earlier, the organisation celebrated forty years of hosting Western Australia’s hugely popular Chevron City to Surf for Activ, the state’s oldest and most loved community fun run. The event takes place every year in five locations across WA, finishing with the famous hero event in Perth.  But perhaps the most important development in recent times has been the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), a government scheme designed to increase choice and control for people living with disability across Australia.

“In this year, we’ve had our first customers transitioning into the formal federal NDIS system, which is an enormous milestone for us. The NDIS is such a fundamental shift in the way we work, it’s really important that we celebrate entering that scheme.” Although the idea of giving more choice and control to those living with disability may seem natural to many people, historical systems were rigid and provider-focused, whereas now the focus is on participants and their goals.  “Organisations have been block-funded by government [in the past], restricting the portability of funding, therefore decreasing choice and control. Under the NDIS, people living with disability and their families have greater choice over how, when and from whom they receive a service that fits their individual needs.” Many people who will be supported by the NDIS require a level of personal, intimate support through their funding, making it vitally important that the right people are chosen to provide these supports.

“What it means for us as an organisation is we go from two or three government customers to 2,000 individual customers. That’s an opportunity for us to review how we listen to our customers, how we make sure that they have choice in how we support them, and really establish a relationship of equals with our customers.” The scheme is designed to help people living with disability ensure they are receiving support from the right organisation for them. The NDIS will certainly present challenges, for organisations and customers, but once it becomes more settled, there are huge benefits on offer for both parties. “In the future, as people living with disability get used to having choices, we’ll be able to co-design programs with them, to involve the community more, and I’m sure there are opportunities for technology to really leverage choice for people living with disability.” In the long term, people living with disability will have access to informal supports within their communities, ensuring disability becomes a community-wide issue, not one that is limited to those living with disability and their families.

Ms Newport likens the issue to another that is close to heart, gender inequality. “Nobody expects gender inequality to be fixed by women,” she says. “They understand that men need to be part of the solution.” “I think the community needs to realise that the NDIS alone isn’t going to fix the problem. The problem is one that we all have to come together and fix, and that’s about our expectations and aspirations for people living with disability, but also our expectations and aspirations for our organisations and how accessible they are.” At a fundamental level this must include a collective realisation that the best possible outcome for people living with disability is one that both benefits and is supported by society as a whole. “18% of Australians live with disability,” Ms Newport concludes. “This is everyone’s issue. It’s not a minority issue; this is a mainstream population issue. If everybody got involved and worked towards better outcomes, I think we could achieve amazing things.”

Find out more about Activ Foundation by visiting www.activ.asn.au.

Advocare: Looking after Australia’s seniors

An independent not-for-profit organisation based in Western Australia, Advocare provides a range of services designed to assist seniors and their families and carers, and works across the state to raise public awareness and understanding of older people’s rights.

Diedre Timms is the organisation’s CEO, and has over 20 years’ executive level management and community development experience in the not-for-profit sector. She has managed programs and organisations in the areas of disability, women’s health, aboriginal health, aged care and community care, and international emergency response. Ms Timms spoke with The Australian Business Executive about the services offered by Advocare, the work undertaken to raise the organisation’s profile, and the need for the government to allocate adequate funding and resources to the aged care sector.

Protecting the rights of older people

“We’ve been around since 1996,” Ms Timms says, “and our mission is about protecting and promoting the rights of older people, and we provide a service across Western Australia. We are often answering questions about how seniors can access aged and community care.” The company provides advocacy, information and education for older people, their families, carers and the general community. The main purpose of advocacy is to provide support for older people to make their own choices, directed by the individual.

Developed in 1996 as a project within the division of Kinway of Anglicare Western Australia, Advocare grew from a need to support clients in residential aged care and community care. “There was some funding around to support older people, and sometimes these projects started in larger organisations which had the resources to establish a program. Funding was available through what was then called the Home & Community Care Program [HACC].” The HACC program has since transitioned into the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP), an organisation from which Advocare still receives funding, and which is designed to help older people stay at home.

“We also provide systemic advocacy, so we are regularly reporting issues up to government on behalf of older people, and we’re now part of a very exciting national collaboration called OPAN, or the Older Persons Advocacy Network.” OPAN is made up of nine members, delivering services in all states and territories across Australia. Working collaboratively with colleagues across the country hugely benefits the development of Advocare’s services, enhancing the quality of advocacy for older people.

Education as well as support

“Our work is across WA, and in our last annual report for the recently finished financial year we had just under 8,000 calls to our organisation, and about 10% actually relate to elder abuse. We also staff the WA elder abuse helpline.” A large part of the organisation’s responsibility is to provide education to people through community outreach, residential facilities and community events, where it provides education sessions on rights, how to access services, and preventing elder abuse. “We provide extensive phone support,” Ms Timms adds, “and we travel to the regions as often as our funding permits, but we can’t visit every region every year. We try and build relationships with communities so they are confident to call us and know we’re here to help.”

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Ms Timms admits that there still isn’t a huge awareness of Advocare as a brand or the services it offers. It is still a significant part of the organisation’s mission to inform people of the service. “I take every opportunity to talk about Advocare and the work we do. I’ve got six advocates and a staff of thirteen. We probably have about 28,000 visitors to our website [per year] where we also provide information. We try and reach as many people as possible.”

Education sessions are about building a word-of-mouth network, with the hope being that those who learn about the service for the first time will pass on that learning to others. When people do contact the organisation, it is for a variety of reasons.

Ms. Timms is relatively new to her role as CEO, having come on board in 2017, but her passion for social justice means she is grateful to have the chance to make a difference to people’s lives.

“A family member will ring up and say [someone] really needs some support at home but we don’t know where to start. The age care system is quite complex, and it’s not something that people invest a lot of energy into finding out about, until they actually need it.” Many people who make contact have reached crisis point, often making the whole experience more difficult and stressful. Advocare provides information about where to go and what support is available.

“That might be enough for some people. They’ll go away, they’ll know how to go about getting some support, but for some people they will ring us with some quite complicated situations, where they’re not actually getting the care that they need.” Advocare is equipped to help people with more complex issues, working with them so that they are aware of their rights and exactly what kind of service they should be expecting in their particular circumstances.

Working for social justice

Ms. Timms is relatively new to her role as CEO, having come on board in 2017, but her passion for social justice means she is grateful to have the chance to make a difference to people’s lives. “I’ve spent most of my working life supporting vulnerable people, and I see older people as some of the most vulnerable in our community. Older people really deserve a life of dignity. They’ve actually built the nation we now all enjoy.” The organisation’s strategy going forward is all about engagement, about making as many people as it can aware of its services and the rights of older people. The more older people it can reach, the more it will be able to support.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve changed our education sessions. We don’t simply provide information, we actually work to really engage people and it’s those rich conversations that allow our advocates to really understand the issues facing older people.” The increased visibility of elder abuse in recent years is the most serious issue Advocare deals with. For Ms Timms, it is impossible to understand exactly why such terrible treatment of elders continues to take place.

“We’ve got these pockets of shocking abuse. The federal government has just announced a Royal Commission enquiring into aged care. My hope is that the commission will make recommendations to government on how to achieve a quality service for older people.” Such a service would require excellent resourcing and funding to be a success, to help organisations invest in staff and provide the necessary training, and to be able to select people with the compassion needed to work in the sector.

Life-expectancy is rising, and numbers of older people are set to keep growing. With an already difficult task of getting to the WA population to talk to everybody who needs help, Advocare will likely face bigger issues going forward. “We are constantly challenged by resources and having to make decisions about what is a priority for our service all the time. I think we’ll all be judged on how we treat older people, and to quote others: ‘the standard we walk past is the standard we accept.’” The fact that there is a large cohort in the country that requires care should not be news, people have known about this emerging issue for a long time. What needs to happen is government action to get adequate resources in place to support those in need.

“Those who can afford to pay for care will have to do so, so that those who don’t have the resources can actually get the care they need and really deserve. I don’t think it’s acceptable to have a waiting list of 105,000 people waiting for packages of care.” The recent introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been a game-changer in the not-for-profit sector, and Ms Timms believes the work it does in assisting people with disabilities is commendable. “It’s about a guarantee of support for those with a disability moving forward, so that means that if you have a disability and you get support under the NDIS, that is support for life, and that’s so important for people with a disability.”

The scheme has already faced challenges, however. The setup means that the government has control on setting service prices, and with prices being set so low it can be very difficult to deliver a quality service. “I think it’s going to take some time to get this right, and I sincerely hope there aren’t too many people who miss out or suffer along the way. For Advocare, it will mean that we won’t be supporting people with a disability. Our focus will shift to supporting older people.”

This is because funds that were traditionally allocated to Advocare have now been absorbed within the NDIS, and it will now be up to the individual state to provide funding for that sort of advocacy. “I’m pleased to say WA government have just announced they will provide some funding, but that funding will go to specialist disability support agencies, and Advocare will focus on providing support for older people.”

This focus on providing support will continue to revolve around spreading the word about Advocare’s services. The organisation’s dedicated helpline for elder abuse is 1300 724 679, and it can also be reached on 1800 655 566 for general enquiries.

For more information on Advocare visit www.advocare.org.au.

BEAT Architects: Regional architecture specialists

Based in the town of Rockhampton, architectural firm BEAT Architects has earned a reputation for bringing the kind of architectural innovation and creativity usually associated with big-city architects to regional Queensland.

A specialist in residential, education, commercial, heritage, and medical projects, BEAT is a proudly regional firm employing experienced designers and architects to deliver high-quality for a reasonable fee. Managing Director Carl Brown spoke with The Australian Business Executive recently about the realities of being a regional architect, the benefit of having experience in a number of specialist segments, and the firm’s need to develop a new model in order to stay competitive and relevant in a changing industry.

Consistency and quality

In 1991, fresh from his architectural studies at Brisbane QUT, Mr Brown escaped the pressures of big city living by moving to Central Queensland, settling down in the more relaxed regional environment of Rockhampton. It was here he first established the company, which began as Carl Brown Architects. No matter where Mr Brown was based, there was little doubt architecture would be a big part of his life. His father was a quantity surveyor, his grandfather an architect. Add to the mix his own passion for fine art and photography, and it was always likely a career in architecture would blossom.

In the early days, the company ran with a staff of just three. Driven by the desire for creative and innovative design, the company expanded gradually over the years to match Mr Brown’s growing architectural ambition. In 2010, the company purchased another local architectural practice, Tropical Architects, which was merged to form BEAT Architects. With this acquisition, the company grew to become a 20-person practice, greatly increasing capacity and providing a new level of consistency and quality to its service offering.

“One of the services we’re pleased to be able to offer is consistency” Mr Brown says. “Most of our staff have been here 10 to 20 years, so returning clients will see a familiar face and a known service level, and that ensures a comfortable reassurance.” For some time, BEAT was the region’s largest architectural practice outside of Brisbane in terms of staffing. Since the GFC and economic changes in regional Queensland, BEAT has consolidated its office size to become more of a medium-sized practice.

Over the years the company has applied its passion for innovation and creativity to a number of high-profile projects in the area, Here is Rainbow Valley Childcare Centre in Gladstone, for which the BEAT architect won a state award


Specialist experience

“Where we differ from big city practices is we offer a broad range of experience in a number of areas. Specialist firms, which just do hospitals or education projects, wouldn’t survive here, because there’s not enough work regionally for just a specialist firm.” This means regional practices still need the experience to complete a range of specialist jobs, big and small. One of BEAT’s key strengths is having skilled know-how in a number of different industry segments, adding a level of flexibility that along with its innovative design makes a BEAT project all the more attractive. “We have a small team that focuses on education projects,” Mr Brown explains, “and another team that does mainly medical projects, and another specialising in heritage and commercial work.”

With all of BEAT’s architects having worked in big city practices in the past, in cities like Dublin, Brisbane and Sydney, the firm has amassed plenty of specialist experience, allowing it to offer innovative design in a variety of sectors. The primary growth corridor for regional architectural firms currently appears to be education, although the medical sector has also been growing significantly, with the work of regional firms becoming increasingly important on smaller medical projects.

These specialist sectors are a core part of BEAT’s business, although Mr Brown admits that certain sectors, such as local government, still have a tendency to look towards bigger city firms for larger projects, rather than the local economy. “There’s a misconception that the best services come from big cities,” he says. “It’s something we’ve identified and which needs to be addressed. By producing quality architecture incorporating innovative design, we are continually working to turn this misconception around.”

Quality design

A good architect offers quality design built on experience and creative talent. BEAT is made up of design specialists, and its staff work passionately to develop the skills needed to offer the best possible service. “We also offer our clients methods for saving money,” he says, “and make spaces more efficient, to reduce the footprint but not lose any of the functionality. Architects are known as very good lateral thinkers. How can we approach a solution differently, or more effectively?”

As well as saving space, a good architect ensures the design is easy to use and a joy to be in. Good architecture should be fun as well as functional. “We love hearing our clients’ feedback on the difference good design has made in their daily lives. A house can be more like resort living for very little difference in the build cost, simply with creative design.” For BEAT, being the best architectural firm it can be means employing senior, diversely experienced, qualified architects and designers, making it better equipped to take on a variety of projects at a high level. “A lot of the big city firms rely on less experienced students or overseas staffing to keep costs low. However, this means less experienced staff are providing the design documentation.”

The stunning redesign of the Yeppoon Town Hall, commissioned by the then Rockhampton Regional Council. The existing building was partly demolished, with the redesign aimed at achieving the feel of a facility found in a capital city.

At BEAT the focus is on architectural credentials, making sure clients know they are benefiting from the work of top-of-the-line professionals for a fee similar to those charged by larger firms, giving the company an edge over its big city competitors. “We also have a very broad range of experience, which actually adds to any client’s project, whether it’s related to that particular field or not. Bringing experience of a wide range of projects will benefit the client.”

BEAT prides itself on knowing the Central Queensland region incredibly well, having a good understanding of the climate and people, which often proves invaluable. “Importantly, we know the planners, the council and the political state of the town. This helps in achieving planning and building approvals quickly and with less problems.” Over the years the company has applied its passion for innovation and creativity to a number of high profile projects in the area, including the impressive Rainbow Valley Childcare Centre in Gladstone, for which it won a state award.

“We were asked to do an extension to their existing facility, for after school care. Our client desired a space that was engaging, artistic and creative – they wanted something that the kids and the students were excited to be in.” Another significant project was the stunning redesign of the Yeppoon Town Hall, commissioned by the then Rockhampton Regional Council. The existing building was partly demolished, with the redesign aimed at achieving the feel of a facility found in a capital city.

By thinking big, BEAT was able to bring this historic building into the 21st century. “The old hall was from the 60s, very tired. We designed a new state-of-the-art facility with a 300 seat auditorium, function rooms and offices, creating a building of remarkable appearance and functionality.”

A new future model

In the current economic climate, it is essential for companies to look ahead at what might be coming next. Mr Brown admits to often asking – where is the regional architectural profession and practice going in the future? “One of my concerns in the industry,” he says, “is we’ve noticed a growing trend, particularly with a lot of larger firms, to outsource architectural services and have drafting completed overseas.”

With firms sourcing a low cost workforce outside of Australia, it is becoming difficult for smaller regional firms to compete. It may be that the solution is to offer a more personalised, quality service, to cut office size, and to outsource work to experienced local contractors. This would mean that work is kept in Australia. BEAT recognises that in order to stay relevant there must be more focus on working from home or in smaller cooperative groups, without the need for a large office.

“My concern is that in the near future, medium-sized practices like ours won’t exist. They’ll either be the work-from-home architect, or they’ll be the very large firms in the city. We know a number of midsized, regional firms that are moving towards this model.” Mr Brown believes this issue has already created difficulty in operating a midsized practice, and that the trend of sourcing labour from overseas is going to continue. Firms need to adapt their work model to keep work in Australia and to stay competitive.

“In Australia, it appears that the public believe the best architectural services are those that cost the least,” Mr Brown concludes. “We are trying to encourage the community to look for quality services. Our focus is to provide a high-quality of service for a reasonable fee, and see Australians benefit. This is something I feel quite passionate about.”

Find out more about BEAT Architects by visiting www.beatarchitects.com.au.