Dec 18, 2023

Christmas comes early as Feros Village residents secure their home’s future

Kate Smorty (centre) and her fellow Feros Village residents have the best Christmas present: the long-term future of their residential care home. [Source: ABC North Coast, Bruce MacKenzie]

After ten determined months of standing their ground, Feros Village Byron Bay residents have stopped the closure of their residential care home, safeguarding their future just in time for Christmas celebrations.

Its current operator, Feros Care, announced the site’s closure in February, sparking outrage among 40 residents who were told they had only a few months to find new homes. However, after a core group of residents refused to leave, the provider finally agreed to hand over ownership, securing the community’s long-term future. 

Feros Village Byron Bay: Timeline of events

  • February: The Feros Care Board told residents it would shut down the 30-year-old facility as it was no longer fit for purpose under modern aged care standards. Residents were told they would have to find alternative aged care accommodation.
  • May: While most residents had moved, a group of 12 remained, refusing to leave. By now, the Byron Bay community had also rallied behind them with most hoping for a decision reversal before an intended June 23 closure date
  • July: Not only had the June date passed, but the ten remaining residents also outlasted a second closure date of July 19
  • October: With eight residents still on site, new owners were canvassed to determine if the site’s future lay in another provider’s hands. And the good news was several put their hands up, paving the way for the latest breakthrough.

Last week, Byron Bay’s much-loved Feros Village residents received a letter from Feros Care explaining it will hand over its allocation of aged care beds to the Department of Health and Aged Care on January 29 2024. 

The letter also assures residents that the Department of Planning and Environmental (Crown Lands) is close to selecting a new operator for the site with all applicants ready to take over from the 29th.

“Feros Care will continue providing care to the remaining residents until 29 January 2024 when it will no longer receive government funding for any allocated residential aged care places at the facility,” read the Feros Care statement.

“Feros Care repeatedly asserted to the Government that the reason for its closure is the Byron Bay facility, built as a low care hostel, is unsuitable and unsafe to remain as a Government-funded residential aged care facility in its current form and needed to close for appropriate redevelopment.”

Despite constant claims the site needed to be closed and redeveloped from the ground up, 95-year-old Kate Smorty was overjoyed. 

“We’re all very happy, and we’re feeling a bit smug,” Ms Smorty told ABC

I think it’s most amusing that they tried to get rid of us but we’re now getting rid of them instead. The grin on our faces now extends round to the back of our heads.”

Ms Smorty has arguably been the glue holding together the core group of remaining residents. Residents, family, friends and the Byron Bay community persevered and pushed for new ownership when Feros Care confirmed it would not budge on closure plans. The community shares the joy of victory just as much as the residents. 

“George Feros didn’t walk the streets of Byron collecting money in that money box for a couple of weeks or even a couple of years, he walked the streets of Byron for 20 years. So the people of Byron feel as if they own the place,” added Ms Smorty.

Christmas at home

News of the ownership change is perfectly timed for the Feros Village residents as they will remain in their homes over Christmas and the New Year. It’s an extra reason to celebrate and revel in the joy.

Mark Swivel, a local solicitor and Byron Shire Councillor, is also celebrating after helping achieve a positive outcome. Mr Swivel has represented the Feros Village community throughout the ordeal, telling ABC he was thrilled to achieve a win.

“I’m used to saying to clients ‘no one wins a court case or a legal battle’, but I’m probably prepared in this situation to make an exception. Yes, this is a win,” Mr Swivel said.

“They can continue living there, certainly over Christmas, and in the new year their Christmas present will be a new provider who should be able to keep the place going. Every indication is that the village will remain an aged care home for them and for the community.”

Member for Richmond, Justine Elliot, said the State Labor Government will also be making an announcement this week regarding the long-term future of Feros Village.

“The care and wellbeing of the residents remains our foremost concern and I’ll provide the news to our community directly as soon as it’s official,” Ms Elliot said.

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