This is a drawing together of my series of blogs about a new form of Community Retirement Village.
It has not been easy to distill the essence of thirty years work building and then managing a new type of retirement housing in the U.K. It didn’t start with a well thought out 30 year plan, nor did we even have a road map of where we were heading when we set off in 1987.
I had a great team around me and we were all agreed that we could do better than the then current provision of care and support for older people in later life. The vision of what we were ultimately going to do only emerged over time with the benefit of experience and naivety in equal measure.
We had little money to play with, but we grabbed every opportunity as it arose. We also had some benevolent partners, without whom we could not have flourished. We owed a lot to Coventry Churches Housing Association, the housing organisation we grew out of and we adopted much of their thinking, particularly on the employment and management of staff. (See the storey of Princethope Court, which you can find in the Archive, to understand how our early ideas were born there).
In operational terms there were few footprints to follow in the early years, but treading in fresh snow is great fun. We made it up as we went along but we were united in our intention to find a better model of housing and care for older people than the ones that had been developed in the past. Our vision was to provide “Better Lives for Older People”.
The lessons we learned over all those exciting and challenging years were :- ” TO BUILD MORE “COMMUNITY VILLAGES” and here are some of the next key steps :-
THE FINANCIAL MODEL
It’s no good expecting or relying on Government funding to make this possible. Elderly people themselves have sufficient funds tied up in their existing housing, providing these resources can be unlocked and that can’t be just about downsizing. A new financial model is the key to giving access to retirement housing and care to more people. Whilst downsizing is an option for the lucky few, shared ownership has far greater potential to reach more people. Neither should we forget that some people only have sufficient resources to rent. In all cases people also need to be left with sufficient assets to access care in the future should they need it. This suggests that people should be able to trade the equity in their house for exchange for care. Either at the outset, when they first purchase the accommodation, or later if their care requirements change. The Continuing Care Model used in the USA uses an up front, non-refundable premium to cover the cost of housing and all future care needs. Some adaptation of this approach would significantly reduce the move in entry price, but would need careful and transparent explanation at the outset.
Retirement villages in the UK are still a relatively new phenomenon. They are often seen as “ghettos of older people” or “large nursing homes” or “very expensive luxury housing with high services charges”. They sometimes are any or all of those things. In the promotion of a new village, it is important to address each of these issues directly ——- “they will become ghettos if the village residents shut themselves away”—— “most of the residents will be fit and able but they will see some high levels of frailty within their community”——” it is an expensive option compared to staying in your own home with no service charges and limited support”.
The unique selling point of retirement villages is more about the lifestyle than it is about the accommodation. There are many more opportunities in a retirement community to participate in a range of activities and to access care and support than they would be in an individual home alone.
This is not a rural idle it is an urban village. The village needs to be located close to “chimney pots”, because generally people don’t want to move far from their existing neighbourhood. Whilst the site needs to be level, it is also important that the village is outward looking and all the accommodation benefits from good views beyond the site itself.
The individual dwellings need to have generous space standards because people will usually have come from larger accommodation in their previous house. At the same time there needs to be a variety of dwelling sizes to offer as wide a purchase price range as possible.
Once the village is up and running, it is essential ever after to live up to the promises of the initial marketing campaign. Staying true to the values of quality, lifestyle, innovation and fun. Residents’ involvement in the running of the village is vital and listening and acting on residents’ views should be part of the village’s daily life.
The village offer should be extended to people in the surrounding community and partnerships should be built with local organisations.
WE DIDN’T START WITH A SIMPLE FORMULA FOR BUILDING VILLAGES AND I STILL DON’T HAVE ONE NOW. I THINK THE INGREDIENTS ARE THE ONES I’VE OUTLINED ABOVE BUT IT WILL TAKE ANOTHER GREAT TEAM WITH THE SAME DEGREE OF NAIVETY AND EXPERIENCE.