What is L’Arche?*

L’Arche was founded in 1964 in a small French village by Jean Vanier who invited two men with an intellectual disability to leave their institution and share a simple life in a real home with him.

From these small beginnings L’Arche has grown into an international federation of 145 communities in 36 countries. In Australia there are L'Arche Communities in Canberra, Hobart, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

L’Arche Australia provides family-style homes and lifestyle support for people with intellectual disabilities so that they can live independently in the community. It comprises people with and without disabilities who choose to live together in Communities that belong to the Federation.

No two communities look alike because L’Arche fits in with the local conditions and responds to the unique needs of each individual with a disability, known as a Core Member.

Typically a Community comprises at least two households within close proximity. In some cases houses are donated, in others they are rental properties  or purpose built. Their operations are funded by the government according to each state’s funding model and topped up with grants, fundraising and private donations/bequests.

In each state a Community Leader is appointed by the National Leader. This would typically be a person with long experience in L’Arche who would come from another Community in the Federation to help found the new Community. Their role is to foster a harmonious environment to enable the community to grow in depth of relationship with each person who chooses to live there. They manage the administrative functions, working with government to manage the funding agreements and grants; with the board of management and with the National Leader on L’Arche governance and management matters.

Each house has a House Coordinator who ‘holds the heart’ of each person who lives in the house. Together with the Community Leader they:

  • liaise with parents and family members;
  • work on the design, implementation and review of programs and personal plans;
  • encourage the integration of the household in the functions and events of other L’Arche households;
  • encourage the engagement of each core member in activities and relationships in the wider community;
  • are an emergency reference person for the household (in conjunction with the Community Leader);
  • coordinate weekly house meetings where each person is comfortable to express concerns and feelings.

House Assistants choose to live in a L’Arche household in order to experience and build community. By living alongside people with a disability and other Assistants they strive to create a place of mutual belonging. They are responsible for:

  • Spiritual/pastoral care;
  • Personal care, medication, first aid;
  • Care of the home: budgeting,cooking shopping, laundry, celebrations;
  • Facilitating leisure and holiday time.

Many Assistants are young people who are taking time off to travel, improve their English, fulfil Community Service obligations etc. Most stay for a year but ideally they should be recruited locally and for the long term. Assistants receive a minimum wage plus room and board; they are entitled to a weekend off every month so there is a necessity to employ casual part-time assistants to fill in gaps. Assistants receive on-the-job training and are closely mentored via weekly meetings about disability issues, exploring community, personal/spiritual development and planning with the Community Leader.

L’Arche is acutely aware of the ‘trauma’ for both parent and child of leaving home. Its preference would always be to effect this transition gradually, with young people able to avail themselves of respite in the house in the first instance or otherwise to be very sure that this is where they truly want to live. A gradual transition would also enable assistants and house coordinator to devote time and energy to meeting each person’s needs.

* L’Arche is a French word with two meanings: the Ark, as in Noah’s Ark, a place of refuge; and the arch of a bridge, implying a bridging role for L'Arche to bring people together. It is the name given to the small house in Trosly, France, which the founder, Jean Vanier, bought in order to share his life with two men with intellectual disability.