Celebrating a 130-year history: Q&A with Kalyra’s CEO Sara Blunt

Sara Blunt, Chief Executive Officer, Kalyra Communities and James Brown Memorial Trust

Inside Ageing (IA) managed to catch up with Kalyra’s CEO Sara Blunt to hear about the incredible story behind Kalyra – both its past and recent events that include acquisitions, redevelopments and an innovative approach to engaging residents.

IA:  Congratulations on your recent anniversary. It’s not often we receive a press release announcing a 130-year anniversary.   Kalyra would have to be one of the oldest charities in Australia, especially in the aged care space. Tell us a little bit about the history.

Sara: Jessie Brown is the woman behind it. Her life was an extraordinary journey, demonstrating survival, resilience, and generosity. It’s also a rich, brutal, and uniquely Australian story, which ultimately results in services that have given hope to many people over 130 years.

At age 13, Jessie arrived in Australia from Scotland. Two years later, she married a widower and was mother to two stepsons by 19, had her own baby and was following her husband to Hong Kong. This journey involved travelling across the country and then by clipper from Sydney. By the time she arrived, her husband and oldest stepson had died of dysentery, so she had to find her way back. Sadly by the time she returned to her family here in SA, her baby had also died, and she arrived with the remaining stepson. A decade later, Jessie married James Brown.

James was a Scot and pastoralist running sheep in the South East. His story is confronting, as years before he met Jessie, he was charged under the Aboriginal Protection Act for murder. We acknowledge and detail this in our history as a tragedy of the Frontier Wars and colonialism of the times, which along with the introduction of diseases like smallpox, decimated our First Nation people and led to intergenerational grief and loss we Australians continue to work to reconcile today. In researching the story of Jessie and James, I realised how much wasn’t taught to me at school and the importance of acknowledging our past. I’ll send you a copy of our book.

130 years ago, the visionary Jessie died, and her Will set up the James Brown Memorial Trust. The first Trustee’s consisted of the Anglican Bishop, Catholic clergy, the Head of the Jewish community, three knowledgeable businessmen and Catherine Helen Spence, the first woman to stand for federal parliament. So in keeping with AICD recommendations today, cultural diversity, gender diversity and skills. Not bad for 1892! And we have been very expertly governed for over 130 years.

Jessies’ Vision was to provide and facilitate humanitarian services which improve the quality of life of people in need. And Kalyra has been doing that ever since. We have provided services for children affected by polio, the TB sanatorium for SA, affordable housing for the homeless and, more recently, care, services and accommodation to enable older people to live life to the full.  

IA: Your recent event to celebrate 130 years included a future-facing element titled, The Future is Now Digital Expo.  You have also launched the project Future Friday, where you are collaborating with Flinders University to help answer questions about the future and innovations in aged care – with questions submitted each Friday by residents.  What a great initiative! Tell us more about it. 

Sara: One of Kalyra’s traits has been innovation and a forward focus right through its history. Always striving to provide quality services and be at the forefront of new developments in our sector. Covid has been a huge impost, and in keeping with our past, we decided to look forward to the future. As we captured stories from across Kalyra to share, we asked people what they thought the future might hold, and it became apparent that the future is now. It’s happening all around us all the time.

We also wanted to hold a celebration that wouldn’t be cancelled by a Covid wave, so we decided to try a real-time online live-streaming event. We connected our sites via the internet and had two very generous Professors from Flinders University who shared their thoughts and answered questions. We celebrated with afternoon tea and cake, all feeling very future focussed and modern, as we connected and live-streamed. Then every Friday, an envelope drops in their email box, and one-click opens it up to a question asked by someone in our community, and it is answered by an expert. We’ve also updated our history book – now at the printers – and will be sharing digital resident stories along with holding more afternoon teas over the coming months.

Video from one of the Future Friday sessions

IA: Technology and innovation seem to be a big part of Kalyra’s DNA, and we’ve noticed that you have been successful in receiving funding from the first round of ARIIA grants to support the retention of female workers aged 50 years and over in the aged-care workforce.  Tell us more about what you’re doing in this area and other outcomes you are finding from embedding innovations.

Sara: We were thrilled when the SA Innovation Hub, a community of practice we are part of, was successful in the ARIIA round. It’s an exciting project to test resilience strategies for aged care workers and very timely right now. The project is in partnership with SAMHRI, and Flinders Uni, and we will develop our skills and knowledge to support staff effectively in future.

We have also worked on Quality of Life with Deakin Uni and the Caring Futures Institute to improve the experience in aged care. Covid, the reforms and government data gathering, like SIRS, have put great emphasis on measuring quality clinical care, which is helpful, but our residents and clients are clear they want a great quality of life.

My Home Life is a UK initiative that has become an international, award-winning, evidence-based program promoting Quality of Life and positive change in Aged Care Homes. The SA Innovation Hub is the Australian My Home Life Partner. The leadership support program has a simple yet powerful set of frameworks, uniquely tailored to the aged care context. My Home Life has been designed to realise the leadership qualities needed to adapt, build, trust and inspire everyone to achieve their organisation’s goals. It’s inspiring! The program builds on strengths, builds relationships, and encourages active listening.

IA:  Kalyra is also expanding with recent acquisitions of Woodside Lodge and McLaren Vale Lodge from Key Invest and Aldersey Grove Estate – formerly part of the McLaren Vale and Districts War Memorial Hospital.  It would seem acquisitions are very much part of your plans going forward.   Tell us about your approach and anything that may be on the horizon.

Sara: Yes, we had two Retirement Living Villages join us in July 2020. A slightly challenging time as we were in lockdown here, with borders closed and holding a meeting in person was considered high risk, so we had to improvise! At the same time, we were finishing a major redevelopment of our Kalyra Woodcroft Aged Care Facility, which we co-located with a Montessori Middle School in an exciting, innovative first.

With a 130-year history, we are adept at pivoting the business model to meet the needs of the times. Long-term sustainability is incredibly important, and we each hold the baton for our time, always building on the strength of Kalyra, its rich history, strong governance and dedicated people.

As we now embark on strategic planning, we will continue to deliver Jessie’s Vision and grow our accommodation, care and services, responding to needs as we have for 130 years.

IA: Thank you


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