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Setting the standard in retirement living

Integrated retirement communities are set to be a big player in adult social care, with investment and attention from Government increasing. Here, Annie Waddington-Feather, Consultant for Standards Wise International (SWI), shares the importance of defining a set of standards for these providers and the benefits this could bring.

With Government releasing several white papers and reports over the past few months, the spotlight is firmly on housing and care.

Last year, the UK Government committed £40m to Audley Group to support new retirement living homes and in its ’Levelling Up’ white paper, government announced a new taskforce to look at ways in which better choice, quality and security of housing for older people can be provided, including how to address regional disparities in supply of appropriate and specialised housing.

People at the Heart of Care’ sets out an ambitious 10-year vision for how it will transform support and care in England and states Government’s aim to put people first, with the initial objective being that ‘people have choice, control, and support to live independent lives’.

Meanwhile, recent proposals for health and care integration, ’Joining Up Care for People, Places and Populations’, identify the crucial role of housing in the health and care system, and reiterate the call for more choice around housing options.

Notable importance

The benefits of specialised housing in later life have long been recognised. The King’s Fund and University of York’s study, ’Evaluating the Care and Support Specialised Housing (CASSH) Programme: Results of a scoping exercise’, noted benefits varied from reduced visits to GPs, to reductions in use of community nursing services, reductions in care and care equipment costs, and a reduced likelihood of entering long-term care.

Increased amounts of exercise, better fitness and independence, better perceived health, a reduction in falls and increased life expectancy were also all noted. At a holistic level, there were also lower levels of depression, loneliness, isolation and anxiety and improvements in memory and mental function.

Indeed, Associated Retirement Community Operators (ARCO), which has long been calling for a cross-Government taskforce to accelerate the growth of the housing with care sector, calculates retirement living would result in savings of £5.6bn for the NHS and social care.

Furthermore, research into the impact of COVID-19 last year on retirement villages and extra care housing, undertaken by St Monica Trust in partnership with Housing LIN, revealed how the housing with care sector’s response to the coronavirus pandemic benefitted residents.

It highlighted that the design and external and internal layout of schemes, plus the self-contained nature of individual apartments, enabled residents to isolate and keep their distance.

A growing sector

Despite the benefits integrated retirement communities bring, just 0.6% of the UK’s over-65s live in these settings. This is relatively low compared to other countries; in Australia, it’s approximately 5%, in New Zealand, it’s 5.5%, and in the United States, it’s 6%. The UK is catching up though, with the senior living sector growing steadily over the last decade. The past few years have seen greater investment commitments than ever before from private equity, institutional capital, and independent businesses alike.

Living in a retirement setting isn’t for everyone but it is a viable option for many, and the consumer interest is there. National Care Forum (NCF) sought the views of people aged between 50 and 70, living in England to understand the needs of the next generation of customers for the care sector.

When presented with 12 different care setting options for later life, and asked whether they would consider each option if care and support was needed at some time in the future, 59% of respondents said they would consider paying someone to provide care in their own home, 58% would consider retirement living in their own flat with an aid call system and communal areas, and 58% would consider a village-style setting with accommodation for older people with different care levels.

What are the challenges?

One of the challenges faced by the integrated retirement community sector is supply. As pointed out in the House of Lords Built Environment Committee’s recent report, ’Meeting housing demand’, the population is ageing, and by 2050 one in four people in the UK will be over 65; quite simply, the country needs more specialist and mainstream housing suitable for older people.

Local planning departments also need to keep up and approve development plans, but they may find that these don’t fit with the Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987.

And while the consumer interest is there, there are some perceived barriers. The Winckworth Sherwood and Housing LIN report, Holding Back the Years: the rise of retirement villages, identified a number of these, including:

  • 35% of respondents wanted to remain in the family home/protect a current property asset.
  • 33% had a negative perception of life in retirement villages/only living with older people.
  • 15% were concerned by the lack of choice of product available.
  • 9% were worried about cost uncertainty.

Furthermore, the report pointed out there is probably a degree of inertia in terms of moving house.

So, while the consumer has shown more interest in exploring retirement living options, they are wanting more affordable choice in retirement living lifestyle options, with transparency in fees, and are actively looking for alternatives and wanting protection for their rights.

The significance of standards

Many sector organisations believe standards in senior living settings need to be urgently addressed, and Standards Wise International (SWI) is one of them.

While providers of care homes, care homes with nursing and homecare services are required to meet the standards set by the Care Quality Commission, there are very few national standards specific to providers of housing for those aged over 55, where residents generally live independent lives and, in many cases, require little or no support, but may in the future.

These settings, such as integrated retirement communities and Alms houses, are mainly governed by housing provision standards, or by member organisations’ codes of conduct (for instance, ARCO has a consumer code) and standards.

Standards allow providers to focus on critical areas, from governance and transparency in fees, to leadership and infection prevention.

Providers can pinpoint strengths and weaknesses, identify gaps in systems, identify best practice and, overall, improve the quality of service. Standards establish consistency and uniformity across multiple individuals and organisations, while simultaneously setting expectations.

For people using the service, universally assured standards are crucial in understanding the quality of service they should expect from their provider. Everyone deserves to have confidence that the services they receive are reliable, safe and verified. Independent standards will also offer more protection for both the individual and the provider.

For operators, a set of standards will demonstrate commitment to the consumer and contribute to a better experience for all stakeholders. This includes staff, local authorities, and Government. Crucially, staff will take pride in working for a reputable organisation.

Furthermore, a quality stamp of standards approval could give a provider the competitive edge.

Developing standards for senior living

By adopting a positive approach to standards, there is an opportunity for operators of integrated retirement communities to become sector leaders. SWI is committed to improving the lives of older people, their families and communities, by developing sets of internationally informed standards for senior living and homecare to create better outcomes and exemplar practices and models for living.

By creating a ‘community of practice’, we can leave a legacy for our sector. Maintaining standards isn’t just about a tick from regulatory bodies; standards are essential in helping organisations to be innovative, reduce costs, and maintain respect and competitiveness in the marketplace.

Intergenerational living and inclusion

SWI believes senior living should be intergenerational and inclusive of the wider community, and aspects of senior living should be integrated into community infrastructure and developments. The concept of intergenerational living is not new, and there are several settings where stakeholders have worked on this principle to ensure inclusion.

  • Bournville Trust initiative

Lightmoor Village is a modern urban village development in Telford, Shropshire. It is a joint venture between housing association Bournville Village Trust (BVT) and the Homes and Communities Agency (HCA).

The village will comprise around 1,000 homes, a primary school, community centre, health centre, nursery and shops; as well as parks and numerous green open spaces. At the heart of this village is Bournville House, providing high-quality retirement/extra care apartments for rent for people aged 50 and over.

  • Belong villages

Belong is one of the early pioneers of the ‘household’ model for people with dementia. The villages offer 24-hour support in an extended-family-sized setting, providing dementia and nursing care. Facilities include bistros, hair salons, therapy and function rooms, with all facilities, activities and events programmes open to the public. The organisation is also working with Ready Generations to develop multigenerational living complexes.

  • Inspired Villages

Inspired Villages offers independent lifestyles, where people purchase or rent a home, set in secure environments. Residents are active members of the broader local community, facilities are open to the local community, and in some cases, the village hosts essential community services; for instance, the medical centre at Great Alne Park, Alcester, provides health services for both residents and the wider community.

Community integration and intergenerational living should not be underestimated; they reaffirm ongoing value and inclusion of older people in society and, in doing so, contribute towards negating negative attitudes to ageing.


Annie Waddington-Feather is an Independent Marketing and PR Consultant for Standards Wise International (SWI).
Email: annie@wadders.co.uk  Twitter: @wadders007

About Annie Waddington-Feather

With extensive experience in journalism, events and communications spanning over 25 years, Annie Waddington-Feather has worked with a range of care sector organisations in Australia and the UK, supporting clients in a variety of roles at a local, national and international level.

She is currently working with Standards Wise International, the National Care Forum, CommonAge, and Hengoed Park care home. Annie was also part of the Care Provider Alliance core comms team, 2019-21.

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Into the future

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