Date of survey: 23 March 2019
Time of survey: 10.15 am – 10.45 am
Address: 433 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10 Singapore 560433

A Remodelled Void Deck

TOUCH Community Hub is the first built project modelled after the typology Community Pocket in the book Second Beginnings. It is realised after many engagements and dialogues with residents, community and multiple stakeholders. This project is a first of its kind to transform a Singapore public housing void deck into a seamless indoor-outdoor space amidst greenery and yet remain accessible to public. Seniors who regularly hang out under its void deck can continue to do so.

Series of pavilions, gardens and flexible indoor area allow pockets of activities to co-exist. Seniors can initiate interest-based activities, exercise, attend health checks and pick up skills to help other seniors in the community. Community Hub aims to strengthen care at the community level and at the same time foster a culture of mutual support among ageing residents in Singapore public housing estates.

Photos & Extract from COLOURS

Expectations vs Reality

Intergenerational bonding (Concept Art)
Gym for Seniors (Concept Art)
Interest-based activities (Concept Art)

People always say that you won’t fully know what is happening at a place unless you are there in person. After reading various articles (here and here) about this new initiative by TOUCH Community Services. I decided to make a trip down to the block to take a look and to talk to some of the people there to get insights on how they feel about the new facility. 

I left home around 9.50am and reached the place at around 10.15am. The place was quite small and there weren’t a lot of people around as well. From the images I seen online, I expected the place to be much bigger and definitely much busier. 

Greenery along the perimeters

When I got closer to the community hub, it was then I realised the place is actually closed on the weekends and is only open on weekdays from 9am to 3pm. I did not expect this as I thought the weekend is the best time (no school/no work) for the community centre to step up and organise activities where families can come together to participate in. Nevertheless, I still thought it would be nice to take some pictures for documentation and speak to some of the seniors who were there. 

Closed on weekends?
The empty gym
Resting area
Pantry
Artworks on the rubbish bin

A group of seniors gathering around the tables at the pantry area outside the community hub. I did my observations from a distance. The atmosphere there was rather unfriendly. None of the seniors were speaking to each other even though they were sitting together. Everyone was just minding their own business and reading the newspapers — not a single “Hello” or “Good morning”. 

Seniors reading the morning papers

After a few minutes, I headed over and introduced myself to Auntie Betty (she’s the one taking out the newspaper from the tote bag hanging outside the glass door). I sat myself down beside her and started to ask her questions I have about the place. She is 70 and stopped working when she became a housewife at 31. She started to explain to me that newspapers were provided on a daily basis and the senior residents would gather at the table every morning. She also mentioned that on weekdays, the place is usually much more crowded with activities for the seniors. Seniors would attend gym sessions twice a week and there is a fee of $600 for usage of 6 months (the price is almost as high as professional gyms such as FitnessFirst). After the short conversation, Auntie Betty told me that her husband, Mr Lee, is at the opposite table and I could go over to interview him as well. I went over to greet him and extended my hand for a handshake. He shook my hand but rather reluctantly if I may add. I proceeded to ask if he was willing for a short interview. He rejected me right off saying his wife already answered my questions and that the place is closed. He said I should have been there on a weekday instead. I explained to him that I have schools and work on weekdays and could only find time to visit that day. He didn’t listen to my explanation and ignored me. Feeling unwelcomed, I went back to Auntie Betty to say my goodbyes and headed away from the place. (On a side note, I just thought it was rather strange that the couple were not sitting with each other and even on different tables. Is the place always so cold? Or if this was just an off day, maybe?)

Gathering at the traditional stone table

As I was walking past the void deck, I noticed a separate group of seniors sitting around the traditional stone table. I immediately took out my camera and started to snap some images. The two ladies there noticed that I was taking their picture. Being courteous, I went over and explained to them that I was doing research for my project. I was photographing them because I was curious why aren’t they using the new facilities at the other side of the block — which is just about 30m away from where they were. The first thing that Auntie Lian (age 65), the lady in blue, said was that because it costs $600 and the tables and benches were labelled “TOUCH Community Services”. She was there with her sister Auntie Pin (age 66). I had a quick chat with them and managed to find out that they are both still working despite being over the official retirement age. They both mentioned that they do not feel old and at this age they should look at things positively and not dwell on unhappy past events — it is important to have a young mentality and stay happy. When asked about retirement, both of them said they would only retire if health problems arise or if their respective employers do not want them anymore, they want to be able to stay independent and provide for themselves financially. This was a rather surprising answer as I would have expected that most people would want to slow down and spend more time on leisure activities.

Final Thoughts

I feel that the place was misrepresented by the media and wasn’t really what the involved organisations described it to be. The opportunities for intergenerational bonding are significantly reduced due to the operating hours of the community hub. From my observations and casual discussions, I can also deduce that the community hub seem like an “exclusive club” and is causing a segregation between the richer senior community and those that are not as financially stable. This goes against their mission to bring senior communities closer together and to care for each other. Perhaps, a more in-depth investigation would be needed to really get more insights as to why this is happening. 

Update

I sent an email to TOUCH Community enquiring about the community space and the gym for clarifications.


These were our exchanges:


Me (27/03/19):
I would like to enquire about the community hub at Ang Mo Kio Block 433. I am interested to bring my parents to join. Just want to check if the hub is open to all residents? Are there any special criteria to join? From my knowledge, there is a half-year fee of $600, could I check if the fee only applies to the gym or registration for the community hub? Thank you.


Representative from TOUCH (27/03/19):
Thank you for your enquiry with regards to the community hub at Block 433 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10. We have both a social space and a gym at the hub. May I know which aspects are you interested to get your parents involved? If possible, could you share your contact number so that it is easier to clarify any other questions you may have about the community hub. Look forward to your reply.


Me (02/04/19):
Thank you for your prompt reply. My parents were looking at both the social space and the gym. I would need to check with them again. From my knowledge, the gym is located inside the community hub itself? I just wanted to check on the pricing for each of the service (social space/gym).


Representative from TOUCH (02/04/19):
For the gym, participants can enrol in the Gym Tonic programme which last for 4 or 6 months, depending on the assessment recommendation and choice of the participant. I would recommend that your parents drop by at the gym to enquire and register their interest. There is currently a wait list for the next round of intake which will take place in September. You can also call the gym directly at 6253-0492. My colleagues at the gym will be able to provide more information. As for the social space, anyone can drop by to hang out. We do not require any registration or offer membership. We have some free activities like having daily newspapers, health and wellness talks. There are also some classes or workshops which may be free or require a small fee. We will be happy to have a chat with your parents when they drop by. Staffs will be around Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm. It will be helpful if you can share your parents’ name with me so that we can take note. Feel free to give me a call should you require more information. Thank you.



From the above conversations, I found out that the social space is free to use and it is the gym that costs money. Perhaps, the miscommunication came from insufficient marketing and lack of programmes to bring more of these seniors to the hub. However, through this series of emails, I uncovered that the gym is actually quite lacking in vacancies and there is already a waiting list for the next opening in September. That’s 5 months away. Perhaps, more of these facilities should built to cater to the demands.

Credits: Concept art by Lien Foundation and COLOURS

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