L'Arche London opens new Gathering Place for people with intellectual disabilities

London's L'Arche community has opened a new Gathering Place, an 8,000 square foot facility in Lambeth for people with intellectual disabilities

$3-million centre will offer day programs including arts, music and drama

Board members of L'Arche London participate in the ribbon-cutting for the new $3-million dollar Gathering Place for people developmental disabilities. (Gary Ennett/CBC)

London's L'Arche community has thrown open the doors to its new Gathering Place, an 8,000 square foot facility in Lambeth that will provide day program activities for people with developmental disabilities.

Dozens of people — including a host of community leaders — attended the official ribbon-cutting on Thursday at the facility on Colnel Talbot Road. 

L'Arche is an organization of faith-based communities that create create homes, programs and services for people with intellectual disabilities.

The new facility was inspired by a visit from the founder of L'Arche International more than 10 years ago, according to Gary Dodman, the chair of the steering committee that oversaw the project.

"It goes back to when Jean Vanier was here in 2006 and we met with John as a board. He asked us if we had plans for a gathering place and we said, 'Well, not exactly.' And that's really where it was birthed."

L'Arche London has provided residential care for many years. The Gathering Place will offer day programs to foster the growth, independence and dignity of those who participate.

The activities will include arts and music, drama, a kitchen offering adaptive cooking classes, a wellness centre and a Snoezelen Room, which allows participants to engage in therapeutic sensory experiences in a safe environment.

Dodman said there is an extensive waiting list in the community for these services. 

"People have (government) funding, but few places to spend that money. So, we've taken the step to help alleviate that need."

New cafe a first

The Gathering Place will also include the new L'Arche London Café. It will be designed and run by people with intellectual disabilities, a first for London.

The café was made possible with a $46,700 seed grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Colleen McGeough's brother Jim McGeough has been a longtime member of L'Arche London. She was one of many people who toured the new facility Thursday and was impressed by what she saw.

"In this day when everybody is so individualist and divided and it seems like there are walls everywhere, it's nice to have this place of community and inclusion for all."

Dodman said the new centre cost about $3-million to build. The funding has come from a variety of sources, including government grants and donations from businesses. 

Gary Ennett, CBC News