After almost eight years living in a cell-like room at a locked psychiatric facility, autistic man Ashley Peacock will finally move to his own home.

The 40-year-old, whose living situation was so poor the Ombudsman once labelled it "cruel and inhuman", will begin the transition to the community later this month.

"He's seen photographs of the house and he gets excited," says his mum, Marlena Peacock. "He knows he's shifting but it's very hard for him, after so long, to realise that it's actually going to happen."

The Herald highlighted the plight of Ashley Peacock on its front page in June 2016.
The Herald highlighted the plight of Ashley Peacock on its front page in June 2016.

Ashley will live with three specialist staff at a purpose-built house in the countryside at a private location in the lower North Island. He will have his own room, and access to a kitchen, so he can at last undertake one of his favourite activities - making guests a cup of tea.

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The long-awaited move follows a bitter battle by Ashley's parents and supporters for his freedom, including a 2016 report on the front page of the Herald which captured national attention.

Ashley, who is autistic, intellectually disabled and experiences psychotic episodes, has lived in institutions on-and-off for 20 years as a compulsory patient under the Mental Health Act.

He was shifted to the Tawhirimatea unit on the grounds of the former Porirua Lunatic Asylum in 2007, and to its tiny "de-escalation" wing in 2010, due to increasingly violent episodes against staff.

It was supposed to be a short-term solution. However, despite repeated complaints from experts, watchdogs and his family, Ashley ended up in de-escalation permanently, allowed out just 90 minutes a day.

About half his time on the unit was spent locked in a 10sqm seclusion room which also was used as his bedroom. He spent long periods in the room, much of his time recorded as "unengaged".

At one point he was locked in for two-and-a-half years continuously, his only respite a 30 minute daily break outside.

During that time, his condition deteriorated so much his parents now wonder if he will ever re-adjust.

"He has been institutionalised and traumatised. He's damaged," said his father Dave Peacock. "He's also going to have to learn to to be a member of the community again. Human beings are social animals and he's been cut off from society."

Marlena said while they were nervous about the move, they were also hopeful, and had placed their trust in the provider, Community Connections.

"This whole thing has been an utter disgrace there's no question about that. But I've always had hope. Even though at times it was hope without any foundation," she said.

"I also felt grief for a long time. I was so sad and angry, but it was so overwhelming I had to let it go. You have to learn to live with whatever is given to you."

Dave and Marlena Peacock with a portrait of their son Ashley Peacock in 2016.
Dave and Marlena Peacock with a portrait of their son Ashley Peacock in 2016.

The Peacocks moved from Gisborne to be with Ashley, and have shifted four times since, all while dealing with government agencies, human rights groups, supporters and media.

Dave said they wanted to thank everyone for their help. Right now, they were both exhausted, but they knew the importance of this moment and were determined to see it through.

"It is going to be a big leap forward. But it's Ashley's last chance to get any sort of life," he said.

Ashley's care package will cost $850,000 per year, to be managed by Community Connections. Responsibility for his care will be shared between the provider and clinicians at Capital and Coast District Health Board.

Community Connections executive director John Taylor said he knew it was going to be a difficult adjustment.

"We don't know what he'll be able to do or what he'll want. I don't know how long it will take for him to understand he has freedom and choice and control," Taylor said.

He was hoping the set-up would allow staff to be available to Ashley, but not on top of him all of the time, so he didn't feel "surveilled".

Staff were hoping to take Ashley fishing and surfing, and had offers from some local farmers for him to visit and help feed the animals, Taylor said. He too wanted it to work at all costs.

"Ashley has a right to live in society, an absolute right. And we couldn't have found a better place for him to be," Taylor said. " If we can't make this work he's not going to get a second shot. So I think I'll be sleeping there every night to make sure it works."

Ashley Peacock on a recent outing. His parents are hoping he'll be able to go surfing again.
Ashley Peacock on a recent outing. His parents are hoping he'll be able to go surfing again.

The Ministry of Health did not answer a question about how to avoid such a situation happening again, except to say it worked hard to ensure the best quality of life possible.

Associate health minister Julie Anne Genter said she was relieved there had finally been some change for Ashley, and wished him and his family all the best.