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New home, new friends?

26 June 2015

Retirement housing has come a long way in the past few years, providing more than just a roof over your head. Report by Jemima Thackray

Chapel taking place at an MHA home

Chapel taking place at an MHA home

IT IS now widely understood that we have an ageing population in the UK. What is less clear is how society will provide and care for the over-65s, who, in 20 years' time, will make up 23 per cent of the UK population - up from 17 per cent today.

A report by the estate agents Knight Frank, Retirement Housing 2014, says: "Housing for the elderly will make up less than three per cent of total delivered housing in years to come."

This is particularly felt in the lack of appropriate accommodation for people who have retired, and want to plan for their long-term care needs, but who still want to retain as much independence as possible: those who want to downsize, for example, but are decades away from a care home.

The retirement-housing market is trying to expand rapidly to meet the increasing demand, and the new developments are a far cry from warden-assisted accommodation or care homes.

"The idea of 'retirement housing' in the UK is sometimes misunderstood, with many assuming that the only choice of housing with some level of care is a care home," the head of UK residential research for Knight Frank, Gráinne Gilmore, says. "[But] there are now many developments purely for those aged over 55, [as well as] retirement villages, which offer varying levels of care, and which may have a care home on site."


RICHMOND VILLAGES is one such company. It develops large "resort-style" retirement villages that have a range of on-site amenities, including restaurants and bars, arts-and-crafts rooms, hair salons, cafés, and shops. Some "villages" even offer residents an on-site wellness spa and gym, bowling green, and swimming pool.

"Although I don't believe we will see anything on the same scale of the US, where some retirement villages will have 1000-plus residents, and their own golf course, customers do demand high-quality facilities [plus] the reassurance that care is available should their circumstances change in the future. It's a way of retaining independence, but getting the help required," the head of marketing at Richmond Villages, David Reaves, says.

Richmond Villages - which has five retirement villages, and two in development - requires residents to purchase leasehold apartments, and pay a service charge to cover the use and maintenance of the site and its facilities, besides some basic care-services. This charge currently ranges from £70 to £120 per week, depending on location.

As care needs grow, all sites offer residents the option of paying for help with food, laundry, and cleaning, etc., in a serviced-apartment package - and, if needed, for on- site domiciliary care. Each village also incorporates a centrally located care home for residents who need more support.


IN THE report from Knight Frank, one in four respondents said that they would consider moving into some kind of "retirement community" in the future. And Christian housing providers are also taking notice of this increased interest: such as MHA (Methodist Homes), which is currently constructing a 168-plot retirement village in Pickering, to supplement its first village community in South Lanarkshire.

MHA still offers MHA-run care and dementia homes, retirement apartments, and assisted-living packages, but, the housing and care manager Rebecca Valons says, "we have needed to evolve with older people's changing needs and wants. It is clear that many older people wish to retain their independence in their own homes for as long as possible."

Mickle Hill, which is due to open this winter, is set within 11 acres of land, and comprises 168 bungalows and apartments (on a bought, shared-ownership, or rental basis), an on-site care team, and amenities including a café bistro, shop, salon, library and IT suite, gym, and cinema room.

"We are keen that all residents should be able to choose the right balance of privacy and company that suits them personally," Ms Valons says. "People can choose to participate as and when they wish; there is always the option of daily contact; so nobody need ever feel isolated or alone."

All of MHA's residential settings have a chaplain. "This means that people will have someone to talk to, as they may not want to talk to the manager or the people they see socially. Even if they don't follow a faith, they can still benefit from having someone they can confide in."


ANOTHER new player in the market is the Bethel Retirement Villages Group, a Christian company and a subsidiary of a global developer of hotels and luxury residential properties, which is currently building a 117-apartment and maisonette complex (on a buy or rental basis) in Herne Bay, Kent.

The retirement village, set to open in 2017, and offering library, clubhouse, spa, and sports facilities, will also offer 45 assisted-living care-suites, as well as a specialist on-site dementia-care unit, if care needs change.

The Pilgrim's Friend Society is also investing in village-style schemes, where residents occupy their own apartments and use facilities at their own convenience - and yet it is also continuing to invest in its more traditional communities, where the residents are more likely to live in one building, coming together daily in shared communal spaces.

"I was talking to one chap the other day who had chosen to come with his wife, who had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They didn't want to be separated, but they needed the care team right there, so this was a good option for them," the media and communications manager, Louise Morse, says.

Miriam Gibb has been a resident at a Pilgrim's Friend Christian retirement community in Bedford, Dorothea Court, for the past three years. "I am originally from Bedford, but I had lived in Zimbabwe for 54 years," she says. "When my husband died, I came back to England, and didn't know a soul.

"But I had seen Pilgrim's Friend homes advertised, and I said to myself, 'I wouldn't mind retiring in one of those places.' Because, you see, it's hard to set up a new home when you're over 70 and on your own. So the Lord has been kind to me in bringing me here.

"Then, last year, I married my new husband, Bill, who is also a resident here. We are musicians; we met because we both play the organ and piano, and we were playing in local churches in the village. We were both just serving the Lord, and he brought us together. He is 82, and I'm 80; so we're a pretty unique couple!

"There are five buildings of flats here, but each block has a dining room. My husband and I cook some of our own meals, but we always have a cooked lunch, every day, in the dining room, with our friends.

"It's really wonderful - you step out of your door, and everyone is a Christian. We're like a family. We have a communion service every week; we always sing, and someone comes to preach. It's a beautiful thing. As well as the times of worship, there are other activities, such as the craft afternoon on Thursdays.

"There are not many lonely people here, and very few arguments. It is good for us, as we have to learn to tolerate people from other denominations. I can't pretend it's always easy, because life isn't like that; it's not a bed of roses. But this is a happy place."


THE College of St Barnabas is a charity that serves the large number of clergy who are now retiring. The warden, Fr Howard Such, says that: "Fewer than ever of these clergy are able to acquire sufficient capital during their working lives to buy their own homes; the recent economic climate has greatly reduced the value of the limited savings they may have achieved, and, in common with many other professions, pension provision has been reduced. As a result, retirement is a cause for anxiety for many rather than an opportunity."

The college also subscribes to a close-knit model of community, which "revolves around the daily chapel worship, as well as corporate meals and social activities. This gives the college more the feel of a religious community than a residential home."

One resident, Fr Roland Webb, says: "It is not like an old people's home, with everyone sitting around being told when to play bingo or when to knit. It's a community, but we all do our own thing, and keep a lot of independence."

Like the new retirement villages, at St Barnabas, extra care is available when needed. "The college has an integrated care- and nursing-facility, [that] means that it is possible for people to move from one level of support to another as their needs change," Fr Such says.

"Couples can remain in the same community if one becomes more frail. Residents are asked to contribute the cost of their care if their circumstances permit. If this is not possible, help is accessed from various other sources to supplement their contributions."


ONCE the core needs of independent living and security of care provision are met, Knight Frank says, the top priority is access to a community. Its survey found that 56 per cent of people seeking a retirement community wanted there to be a communal area, compared with 37 per cent who desired extra amenities, such as gyms and juice bars.

Ms Morse, of the Pilgrim's Friend Society, says that this confirms what many Christian housing-providers have been emphasising for a long time: "I truly believe that so often we're not living the way God made us to live.

"There is a large body of research now which proves the value of community to our well-being. For example, some research that has come out of the Center for Ageing at Rush University, Washington, recently demonstrated that feelings of loneliness are linked with a 47-per-cent increased risk of developing dementia. The only way for us to get back to full health - physically, emotionally and spiritually - is to live as God designed us to.

"That's why we are constantly looking at ways to develop fellowship in our homes, which are just for believers, and havens, which are for all. We even have a psychogeriatric nurse who brings the residents together for 'brain- and soul-boosting sessions' using CBT [cognitive behavioural therapy] principles to work on self-affirmation and developing a strong sense of identity, as this is one of the first things to go with dementia.

"[This is] all because we know that even mild cognitive impairment can limit social interaction and community - something that is so important for quality of life."


SECULAR housing-providers who invest in village-style schemes are less vociferous about the importance of community for the elderly, and yet this has contributed to the investment in the activities and amenities on offer.

"There is a wellness spa, restaurant, activity room, café, and lounge, as one of the main reasons for the move is to have a good social community on your doorstep," Mr Reaves says.

Howard Nankivell, the sales and marketing director at Anchor Homes - England's largest not-for-profit provider of homes and care for the over-55s - points out that "the amenities which retirees have come to expect" are provided with the ultimate aim of creating a "thriving and welcoming community."

Indeed, the Christian housing-providers also see "extra-curricular" activities as fostering a sense of togetherness among residents. "As well as the 'brain- and soul-boosting sessions," Ms Morse says, "there is poetry and painting, knit and natter, you name it."

And yet it is, more often, the Christian values of these organisations that provide the real opportunity to build shared lives. The Charterhouse, for example, is one of a handful of almshouses still remaining in the UK: a community of men (or "Brothers", as they are known) who have made a valuable contribution to society, and are admitted on the condition of having insufficient finances and/or family support. Residents are required to pay a minimum of £400 a month.

One Brother, who wanted to be known as David, says that "the company of retired vicars, teachers, and artists, combined with the sheer amount of wonderful concerts and lectures have seriously broadened my cultural horizons.

"And yet, despite all that, the overriding identity of the Charterhouse is summed up when I see an 80-year-old helping a 90-year-old up to take communion in chapel."

The Master of the Charterhouse, Charlie Hobson, says that "although the spirituality is optional, it is fundamentally linked with the building of community."


IT IS a similar situation at the College of St Barnabas, Fr Such explains. "Chapel attendance is not a statutory requirement of residence, but it is, rather, a privilege of living here that people see as a blessing. Gathering as a family around the altar is the most profound unifying factor."

Fr Webb says that "the chapel is the engine room of community: it's where everything starts and ends. From here, we understand that we are all servants of each other; we look after each other."

Indeed, there seems to be a recognition among all the Christian retirement-providers that, although they seek to be places of nurture, the most thriving communities are those which engender a level of commitment and effort from the residents. "You have to be someone who is prepared to sign up to the values of the community, to contribute to the shared vision," David says.

Ms Morse paints a similar picture: "Ultimately, you can be as involved or reclusive as you like. Our residents are not in each other's pockets, but it really works when the residents commit to being there for each other. We acknowledge that, as a result, it isn't always easy to live in real community - some people might never have done it before - which is why we try to make it as collaborative as possible. There are lots of team meetings involving residents and staff where the community can really express themselves."

David observes how it is the job of the staff to smooth out the rough edges of any community: "Of course, there is the very occasional bit of friction, or personality clashes, but the staff at the Charterhouse are excellent at recognising tensions early and resolving any potential conflict. The Master was in the Royal Marines, you see, and he knows how to manage people in a close-knit environment.

"Having been to public school, I took to it very easily. Yes, I guess it is a bit like a returning to [an] institutional period of life all these years later. And, let me say, it's an absolute privilege. I feel incredibly lucky."









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