Our specialist retirement estate agency business, Retirement Homesearch explores how the home environment really can impact residents’ wellbeing.

Wellness is a combination of physical, mental and social wellbeing, and the spaces we inhabit are key. Never has this been so true than in our retirement developments where we are dealing with a customer-base that typically spends a lot more time than your average home dweller behind the four walls they call home.

The property sector is waking up to the fact that wellbeing is more than just a corporate social responsibility trend, and by improving buildings to help people feel their best, we can create real value for our residents.

The Investor/Developer community is taking an increasingly long-term view, understanding that operational costs can be reduced through effective design and planning of spaces to promote healthy lifestyles. The aftercare is vital too, and this is where retirement communities can excel. With access to a Development Manager on site, there is much more opportunity to embed wellness into the very core of a building and the community that lives there.

Let’s be clear, this is not about offering a care package – after all, retirement developments are about independent living;  but questions need to be asked about how a more focused approach to enhancing the living space we offer can support the wellbeing of our retired residents. In a simplistic form, this could be about learning lessons in the way we build and manage our developments to make improvements; or more proactively, raising the bar to create more vibrant and engaged communities where wellbeing is at the heart.

As the leading retirement estate agency, we are well-placed to see first-hand how the home environment can impact residents’ wellbeing. Here, we look at some of the areas that we believe should be on managing companies’ and developers’ radars when looking to enhance the wellbeing of residents 

Servicing the Silver Surfer
Retirement developments have an increasing need to cater for the  ‘silver surfer’ generation. Whilst not having WiFi available in communal lounges doesn’t affect a resident’s ability to go online in their own apartment, having access to WiFi in a communal setting is an important factor when it comes to creating communities. The Digital Eagles project, run by RHS’s sister company, FirstPort, has demonstrated how being able to access online channels collectively, amongst friends,  builds confidence and creates social opportunities like never before. Residents have the opportunity to share knowledge and encourage each other to move out of their comfort zone and try new things. With more and more older customers wanting to get online,  older developments are looking at the costs and practicalities of retro-fitting WiFi, but for any new builds, having WiFi built into the design phase is absolutely essential.

Supporting downsizing
The word downsizing comes with the connotation of someone parting with their worldly goods and drastically reducing what they are intending to move with. This is, in part, very true, but our experience tells us that most people who are downsizing find the process of parting with their possessions the most upsetting part of the whole experience. We learnt from a survey conducted by Retirement Homesearch in 2017 that having to get rid of excess belongings is one of the top barriers to downsizing.[1]  Often the storage in a retirement apartment will dictate how an individual or family tackles this, but having more storage – whether that be directly in someone’s apartment, or within a communal space, would certainly ease the upheaval for many.

Parking priorities
Owning and driving a car provides a real sense of independence and freedom that many people living in retirement developments crave. Whilst retirement developments are very well-placed to local amenities – something we know is valued greatly by our residents - many retired residents still  want the freedom to travel further afield without restrictions. We find parking at developments to be a significant priority for residents, particularly those moving into a retirement development at a younger age. With this in mind, it is essential that parking is high on the developer’s agenda at planning stage.

Getting active
People who move into retirement developments often do so in order to become more active. There’s often an social committee at developments that arrange an array of activities from coffee mornings and film clubs, to yoga and dance classes. This has worked well in Surrey and Hove where a ‘Movers and Groovers’ class was launched at four retirement developments last year. The class was designed to keep residents young at heart in mind and body and was a dance class based on music and  musicals from the 1940s to the 1970s. Led by the Music and Dance Academy, a company that normally specialises in dance classes for the younger generation, the sessions were adapted to specifically cater for older residents in order to promote health and wellbeing. An important part of any development managers’ role  (supported by the managing agent) should be to facilitate, support and engage with residents to help create tailored activities and active communities within their developments.

We’re starting to see a sea change where Developers and Managers of retirement developments are taking note of the way people want to live and, as a result, they’re building long-term, viable solutions into forward plans and making adaptations that in the retirement market means seeing  people living the last years of their life in an environment that provides fulfilment and happiness.

[1] Working with Opinium, we conducted an online study of 2,000 nationally-representative UK adults. 36% said  having to get rid of excess belongings was a barrier to downsizing