Retirement villages spread to UK

The trend for communities of senior citizens has arrived, says Graham Norwood
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The Independent Online

Retirement villages began life in the US. Instead of being a single building or small estate of flats - by far the most popular form of private retirement housing in the UK - the village concept usually involves shops, restaurants, sometimes gyms and sports amenities, and on-site medical services. Now this approach, having spread to Australia and New Zealand, is moving to the UK - although a shortage of land and our colder climate mean our versions of villages are smaller and may have fewer services than in the US.

In theory these communities are open to those aged 55 and above, but in reality the villages tend to attract significantly older buyers. One of the largest examples in this country is Denham Garden Village in Buckinghamshire, where Anchor Trust, a retirement housing specialist, is spending £60m to transform a 1950s community previously owned by the Licensed Victuallers National Homes charity, and used for retired pub landlords. It has become a wider retirement village with 326 homes in 30 acres of woodland.

In line with the US concept, there will be a restaurant, café-bar, swimming pool, fitness suite, convenience store and walking trails. Because Denham is typical of these villages in targeting elderly buyers in particular, there will also be a doctor's surgery, 24-hour support staff, a care team for home visits in the village, and domestic help for shopping, ironing and even gardening.

Prices start at £279,000 (call 01895 836333 or go to www.denhamgardenvillage.co.uk), but a possible downside with all retirement villages is service charges - these are inevitably higher than in small blocks or estates, because of the increased facilities.

In Denham's case, a monthly fixed charge of £113 covers repairs and maintenance plus the 24-hour on-site emergency-response team. Some additional home-help type services cost £10 an hour. Other villages have much higher service charges but devotees of the village principle vigorously defend them.

"Developers of typical retirement blocks charge £50 to £60 per week in management fees which embrace insurance, window cleaning, an emergency call service, maintaining the building and so on" says Keith Cockell of Richmond, another retirement village developer, with five communities in the Midlands and East Anglia.

"Compare this with a care village. You might well have to pay £70 to £80 per week in management fees but our emergency call-service links you directly to qualified nursing care. Also, we don't just provide a communal lounge and a kitchen - we have restaurants, bars, shops bowling greens and Wellness Suites in our villages. You could easily spend £30 or £40 plus a month on membership at a health club for these," says Cockell.

Many villages offer transport services including wheelchair-adapted vehicles - a far cry from the simple bus service to local supermarkets advertised by some developers of small blocks or estates.

Richmond's properties are at the top end of this sector, with prices at some villages hitting £799,000 (call 0845 607 6405 or visit www.richmond-villages.com). It uses the term "designer living" in marketing material to attract those who may have linked retirement homes with dowdy, functional design and style.

The longest-standing developer in this field in the UK is the American firm Sunrise Assisted Living, which has 11 villages across southern England and the Midlands (see www.sunrise-care.co.uk).

Although it, too, emphasises that older age presents opportunities as well as problems, it overtly recognises the issues that its clients face. It holds seminars on the impact of Alzheimer's and of some physical disabilities.

The village concept is still too new for one to be sure about investment potential, but if a development has been in existence for some years, would-be buyers should check on resale values. Also ensure that you check the lease before purchasing, because many have specific restrictions.

There are 9.6 million over-65s, some 15.7 per cent of the total UK population, and by 2030 this is forecast to grow to 14.8 million people, a predicted 22.7% of the population. Retirement properties are here to stay.

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