Northern Ireland

Luxury living for people with learning disabilities

Image caption Blair Lodge is a new facility for adults with learning difficulties

A new facility for adults with learning difficulties, challenging behaviour and complex needs has opened in Bangor.

Rosemary Armstrong provided the £2.8m capital for Blair Lodge on the Bryansburn Road.

She has to rely on a number of different health trusts and further private investment to provide funding for the day to day running of the residential home.

Originally from Coagh in County Tyrone, she decided to get into the caring profession after she herself recovered from an incapacitating illness, where she spent four years in hospital.

Rosemary Armstrong said they wanted to improve on the existing building which was built over 20 years ago and to focus on family living rather than institutional.

"Because people have a disability it doesn't follow that they can't live in nice surroundings and so on 27 August 2008 we demolished our old building and we moved to a temproary facillty not very far away," she said.

"For the next 12 months, we watched the new building rise and it's been very exciting.

'Choice'

"People have commented that it's more like a hotel.

A total of 29 residents live in the residential home supported by 30 staff.

"They have a choice of where they live and how they live within the building," she said.

"For all intents and purposes it looks like two houses almost joined as a bungalow, so we fit in nicely with our neighbours, we don't stand out."

Within the building there are five front doors, with five residents living in each unit. They have their own catering facilities and their own living and sleeping area.

Image caption Rosemary Armstrong provided the £2.8m capital for the project

Blair Lodge also has a two bed-roomed apartment and a bed sitting room. It also houses a kitchen, laundry and administrative services.

Rosemary Armstrong has spent most of her working life in the health care sector.

"I left the NHS in June 1976 and since then I have been in the private sector.

"My earlier days were spent working in elderly care but some 14 years ago I came to work with people with learning disabilities and really there is no other work for me now except in this particular area.

"It's lovely, it can be challenging but we enjoy it," she added.

"What we want here is to provide the best care as possible for our residents and to exceed all currrent standards and requirements in this very specially designed building.

'Brilliant place'

"We have people here who have very challenging behaviour and complex needs but we are able to, with our staffing ratios to provide the care that's asked and expected of us."

Ronnie Patterson has been a resident at Blair Lodge for 10 months.

"I think it's a brilliant place and a lovely place," he said.

"The home is like a big family unit and everybody gets on together and they all enjoy it."

Kate Comiskey is manager at Blair Lodge.

"Rosemary Armstrong is a very determined lady who loves what she does.

"We're very lucky that she is the owner. She is very innovative and only the best will do for her residents that live in Blair Lodge."

'Hitting targets'

The centre was officially opened by the Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

"This facility fits in with the department's policy of ensuring that we have care in the community for those with learning disabilities , particularly about resettling from long stay care in places like Muckamore and I'm very pleased to see this development here today," he said.

"I set stringent targets about resettling patients from Muckamore and I can that say despite the financial challenges, we continue to be hitting our targets, at a rate of around 40 patients per annum being resettled."

Over the past 30 years, Rosemary Armstrong has built, run and invested around £6m in the private health care sector.

"I'm just one person so i'm part of a team," she said.

"I think my team is tremendous, everyday is different.

"This is a wonderful way for me to go towards retirement.

"I'm not going yet but when I go I can look back on the last 15 years, as being the best of my life."