A home away from home for new students

Lismore resident Norma Wyndham with Companion Housing project co-ordinator Virginia Clarke.

Lismore resident Norma Wyndham doesnt feel anywhere near like 78.

I think someone kidnapped me and put into this old body, laughed Norma.

Spritely, sharp, funny, a good cook and good company, Norma is the first person to put her hand up for the Companion Housing scheme, a joint project between Southern Cross University and DAISI (the Lismore-based Disability & Aged Information Service Inc). And bets are shell be snapped up quick.

The project involves matching an older home owner with a responsible student. In return for free accommodation the student provides 10 hours of negotiated support, but the lucky student who stays with Norma will feel like theyre living with a caring grandma.

I like to nurture them, said Norma. I do the washing, cooking and cleaning, and they get a lovely room with a desk and lamp thats just right for studying.

It is hoped this innovative scheme will solve the chronic shortage of affordable accommodation in the Lismore area while also providing older home owners with companionship and a little help around the house.

One of the things older people like about the program is theyve got someone in the house with them, especially at night, said Virginia Clarke, the Companion Housing Project co-ordinator. And the 10 hours of support is very, very flexible. In Normas case, hopefully theyll help her maintain her beautiful garden.

Norma has four children, six grandchildren (shes not sure how many great-grandchildren), and her home has always been alive with the laughter of family members. She has also had Japanese exchange students in her home for many years, and makes a great sushi and stir fry.

I get on really well with young people and have had really positive experiences with the students who have stayed with me, said Norma. I also think its important to encourage young people.

While the Companion Housing Project is new to Australia, similar projects have been successfully operating overseas for 20 years.

Southern Cross University got involved in 2007 and Student Services group director, Carl Rallings, said SCU was proud to be the first university in Australia to be part of such an innovative project.

With a 2007 intake at Lismore campus of about 1400 new students, half of which are from outside the area, there is certainly a demand for accommodation in Lismore. The university has 379 beds on campus and has a free service to help new students with off campus accommodation.

The Companion Housing Project is another accommodation option to offer our students, said Mr Rallings. Not all students want to live on campus, nor do they want to share housing with other students. I think our mature age students in particular will be interested in this project.

All participants in the project are carefully screened, security checked and matched to provide a win-win situation for both students and older people living by themselves. Both parties also receive ongoing support from Virginia to ensure the well-being of all involved.

Im really pleased that Norma is involved in the program because Ive got some younger students who need a lot of nurturing, said Virginia.

I think everybody needs a lot of nurturing, added Norma. Now, who would like a cup of tea or something to eat?

For more information about the Companion Housing Project contact Viriginia on 1800 800 340 or visit

You can also follow the prompts to student accommodation services on the SCU website at

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