Supported housing, Convent style

My Aunt is a Dominican Sister (Catholic religious order) in Cape Town. She recently moved into a newly built convent that is a fantastic example of supported housing. This gave me some great insight into how to do community living well. There’s a lot we can learn from the nuns.


The convent was designed with input from everyone who was going to live in it. The Sisters commented on every aspect of the home, including the need to preserve two huge avocado trees that were on the site. Every room looks out on flowers or grass, there are glass walkways, a shady place to sit out, lots of windows and the wall was replaced with a fence that allows you to look out to the street. The décor is simple and restful.

Life-long care

The convent is designed so that people don’t have to move. There is a wing for self-care with ensuite rooms, a lounge and computer room and laundry. There is a wing for assisted living with accessible toilets and bathrooms, and a care worker’s station. There is a wing for frail people with a nurses’ station. The local GP visits as needed and there is backup from the local hospital. Nobody should have to move, whatever their health needs.


All the Sisters are used to community life. They all have a shared purpose in their faith and they have a common interest in that Dominicans are all teachers. The ethos is to help one another and so you see the Sister who has limited eyesight supporting the Sister who cannot hear well, and all the Sisters supporting those who have dementia. The day falls into a routine built around the shared interest of Christianity, including morning mass and prayer that everyone can participate in. The convent is built next to a school so that the retired teachers can still be part of that life. Care workers and nurses are part of the community – there are permanent staff who know the Sisters well. There are two visitor rooms so that relatives and friends can stay.

Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that some of the main factors that affected quality of life in care are:

  • personal factors such as the extent of regular contact with family and on-going involvement in the community
  • accommodation, such as space standards, location, security
  • on-site service provision, for example availability and quality of staff
  • availability of additional care and support, including specialist support for residents with specific needs.

Rosary Convent is a great example of how to do these things right.

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