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    Josh Koenig.

Uniting rethinking disability support

BY Lotte Reiter

Community-service agency Uniting Wimmera will cease operations at its Grahams Bridge Road site from November 1 as it transitions to a ‘new era’ of disability support.

The Grahams Bridge Road site, formerly Karkana Support Services, provides supported employment for 29 people in roles of vegetable processing and gardening.

Uniting Wimmera chief executive Josh Koenig said after the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, NDIS, the agency was reviewing its support for people with disabilities.

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Part of this review was acknowledging that the Grahams Bridge Road site was ‘no longer fit for purpose’.

Mr Koenig said while the supported services had been valuable, they had failed to ‘take the next step’ in an advancing era of disability care.

This meant the organisation would cease site operation from November 1.

“The site opened in 1979 and Uniting Wimmera took over in 2009. In that decade, while it has had purpose, it hasn’t taken the next step,” Mr Koenig said.

“It also comes back to the financial implications. This is not an off-the-cuff decision. We’ve looked at ways to make it more viable, but it is not in today’s landscape of the world and concept of disability services.

“We’re in consultation at the moment and working with families involved on transition plans.

“The support we’ll offer to them going forward is open to whatever support is required – it’s an individual journey for each family. But we’re committed to supporting our people, and we mean that when we say it.”

Mr Koenig said following the announcement the service would terminate, many people had questioned what would happen to the site.

He said the organisation had prioritised supporting people through this transitionary phase and would look to work with community stakeholders and leaders to determine the site’s best use moving forward.

“A lot of people have been asking in the past week what is going to be done with the site itself,” he said.

“At the moment, the Grahams Bridge Road site is not a priority, the people are the priority. 

“Down the track though, the site will come into question, and we’ll be figuring out what the best fit for the site will be for the community.

“It’s going to remain in community hands.”

Mr Koenig said closing the Graham’s Bridge Road site was part of a larger remodelling of Uniting Wimmera’s support services.

He said the introduction of NDIS represented a revolution in the way people with a disability accessed services.

He said Uniting Wimmera would  explore fresh ways to collaborate with other groups and individuals to understand how to best support people in this new context and continue to improve care and service access. 

“We believe supporting people with a disability in Horsham, and the Wimmera region more broadly, needs the whole community to come together,” he said.

“We want to understand what people with a disability and their families are looking for in the NDIS era.

“People with a disability should have easy access to services that increase their independence and provide fulfilling employment opportunities. 

“There should be no barriers, and as a community we should be doing our very best to ensure that everyone has the same opportunities. We’ll be consulting people with a disability, their families and carers and the community more widely to understand the needs and aspirations of people with a disability in this new context.”

Mr Koenig said Uniting Wimmera would also move its focus to building its group-support services, particularly at its Baillie Street building. 

“Over time, we’ve reviewed all our historical disability and mental-health services and refined a lot of them,” he said.

“We’re building our programs with a group focus. 

“We recently converted one of our larger meeting rooms into a specific space to support people with mental-
health issues to come together.

“We’re trying to be innovative and build on our group work and community inclusion.”

Mr Koenig said people interested in being a part of the organisation’s community consultation can email their details to Uniting’s Beau James at

The entire September 11, 2019 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!