Tandem House – A Home For Many

Published on 19 July 2013

Hands Across Canberra is proud to support Tandem House, DUO Services community house for children and young people living with disabilities, as well as their families and their carers. It is primarily the home of an after school care program and youth school holiday program, as well as providing overnight and weekend respite.

Tandem House is located on picturesque Westwood Farm in Kambah. What was originally an abandoned farm is now a well established refuge for the Canberra community, run by the Lions Youth Haven. The farm covers 500 hectares, and as well as Tandem House, is the headquarters for The Yellow Van and The Galilee School.

Prior to amalgamating with Home Help Service to become DUO Services, Tandem received a grant of $5,000 from Hands Across Canberra late last year to go towards the development of their outdoor area.  The funding went towards rebuilding the outside area of the house, and to building a ramp that allows wheelchair access to the backyard.

“Before the wheelchair accessible ramp was built, it was impossible to support high needs kids at Tandem House; any guest had to be mobile. It was very difficult but now we are able to assist those kids and it has made such an incredible difference,” said Tandem House coordinator Mariette Otten.

The outdoor area has a lush and green lawn area, a safe soft fall area, a shaded outdoor setting for the hot summer months and elevated vegetable gardens creating sustainable ingredients for the kitchen.

“The new outdoor area has improved Tandem House a hundredfold. Previously, it was a bare patch of grass filled with rabbit holes. At times it was hazardous to get people outside, there was a massive risk of falling and breaking an arm or a leg.”

Along with the grant from Hands Across Canberra, Tandem House was the recipient of the ABC 666 Canberra Spruce Up.  Hoards of people donated their time, expertise and equipment over one weekend to continue the work on the outdoor area.

The outdoor area also extends well beyond their backyard, with a paddock of horses close by and a chicken coop where the kids are able to collect the eggs and play with friendly dogs.

“There are brightly coloured squawking parakeets and then there’s the peace and quiet – it’s amazing for the senses.  The visual senses and the sound senses with the birds tweeting and dogs barking. It’s soothing for the kids, there’s nothing to disturb.”

The after school and holidays program allows the kids to play games, craft, cook and do activities outside, while under the caring eye of a fully qualified support worker.

The kids learn valuable social skills through the program while giving their parents and carers respite.

“It allows the carers to have a break, whether that means staying at work for the afternoon, having their hair done, spending time with their partner, having a nap. The parents are often so tired and time poor, and this is a chance for them to have a rest knowing their child is safe.”

When asked what they would do if they had more funding, Mariette was quick to reply with a single word.


“We could do so much more. We’ve trialled sleepovers and they’re very popular, giving the kids a chance to stay at the house overnight. The parents and carers get from Friday afternoon till Sunday afternoon free to themselves. For them, this break helps them to rest and recharge.”

It is hoped more classes will be introduced for people with special needs in the future.  At the moment, there are two classes a week, a life skills class and a craft class. More funding would mean more classes during the day.

As the outdoor area continues its upgrade, Tandem House has ordered an all-abilities inclusive swing to be placed on the soft fall. The swing will mean that kids and adults will be able to feel the motion of swinging, even those in a wheelchair or with other special needs.

Further donations to Tandem House will contribute to extending of current programs including  overnight stays, helping local Canberran families.

To donate to Tandem House click here, or to donate to the Hands Across Canberra Foundation click here.