Listening is Sue Nelson’s superpower and she uses it to mend hearts and minds at Newling Gardens Retirement Village.
“I love dealing with people and looking after everybody. I love playing Mrs Fix-it,” the composed Village Manager says. “Most of our residents have moved away from their farming properties and their families so sometimes they do get a little down and need a pick me up.”
Mending hearts and minds
A confidante to many at Newling Gardens, Sue organised a Men’s Health Day to spread joy to residents.
“Last November, we had some residents embark on a mystery tour. We drove them out to St Helena (30 minutes from Armidale CBD), a cattle property my husband manages, and we all sat around the campfire with our Billy Tea, eating cake and sandwiches,” Sue says. “The residents got to live their lives again, as they did several decades ago, by doing some cattle work. It was priceless!”
Her empathetic nature is ubiquitous at Newling Gardens. When a resident in her mid-90s, a former playwright, wanted to rediscover her creative spirit, Sue made it happen.
“It wasn’t easy to get six elderly residents to act. So, I sent out an email which said: ‘This is Merle’s dream, who wants to make it real?’ and just like that, we got our small acting troupe together,” she says.
Asking the right questions
Ironically, it was Sue’s own struggles with anxiety, together with her strong interest in the brain that aptly prepared her for her role at Newling Gardens Retirement Village in 2018.
“I’ve always been intrigued by how the brain works and when I was given the opportunity to participate as a practitioner in neurolinguistic programming, (the understanding of people’s habitual thoughts and feelings and replacing it with new ways of thinking, to improve mental health) I jumped at the opening,” she says.
“The course gave me practical techniques on how to ask the right questions and build rapport quickly to make people comfortable.”
Kindness comes freely
Her gentle, soothing voice is an indicator that kindness comes freely to Sue but, her lived experience at the retirement village has been anything but smooth.
Within a short period of starting there, outside events came cascading in. In just four years at the retirement village, she has managed severe drought, bushfires and a pandemic. She said her background in neurolinguistic programming proved advantageous during the challenging times.
“It was important to me to listen to stories residents were sharing about their children who were battling the emergencies at their farming properties. By giving them the chance to vent and be heard, as well as hearing about my own struggles with the drought and fires, they knew we were all in this together,” she says.
Breaking down barriers
Sue said when the pandemic hit, it raised a new level of concern for residents at the village. In a testament of her character, with support from RetireAustralia, Sue brought her horse Happy to the village, to put a smile on residents’ faces, during the COVID lockdown.
“It’s about understanding how people communicate whether that’s by auditory or visual means – looking out for those cues and being able to respond accordingly,” she says. “You see, most of our residents are from a country lifestyle. Some rode horses to school, others got bread and milk on horses, or it was delivered by horses.
“So having Happy at the village gave residents a snippet of their past. It was one of the biggest communication tools I learnt that helped to break down barriers and it was all thanks to a horse.”
Following the success of the recent Men’s Health Day, the New South Wales Village Manager of the Year in 2020 said she would continue holding the popular activity to build “association and emotion” among residents.
“For our residents these are their vulnerable years, but they can also be very memorable at the same time,” Sue says. “It’s an honour to be able add meaning and colour to their lives just by listening.”