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Q&A - what are the challenges of building a retirement village?

With an ageing population and an adult social care crisis, retirement villages have been talked of as one possible solution.

Here, in this exclusive Q&A, we chat with Robin Hughes, the chief executive of Castle Retirement Living, for his views on the recently completed Castle View retirement village in Windsor, the lack of government support for this sector and how the UK needs to play catch-up with the likes of New Zealand. 

Explain what you mean by a retirement village – how does it differ from a care home setup? Does it share similarities with the popular senior living model in the US and Japan?

Retirement villages generally provide a range of apartments for purchase and are designed for independent living for those aged 55 plus. These usually have one or two bedrooms and include a shower room or bathroom and a kitchen. There are central facilities such as a restaurant, café, bar, library etc and social events and activities are arranged for the residents.

Villages will have arrangements in place where care can be delivered to suit individual requirements or have a care home within the complex, and can be located in urban or rural environments.

Our exemplars come from New Zealand smart, single level modern functional homes that are easy to use with features such as oversized switches for all fittings, simple to operate bathroom and kitchen appliances and full height glazing to ensure full natural light. There are also excellent community facilities to promote socialisation, all of which feature at Castle View. 

What challenges did you face in designing, developing and operating your own retirement village in Windsor? 

Land in all urban locations is tight and it took five years to assemble a site of three acres in Windsor, followed by two years to raise the money and a further two years to build 130 new homes. 

With an ageing population and an adult social care crisis, the retirement property market is growing in status and importance – are retirement villages one effective way of solving the issues at play?

The private sector plays a very important role as government policy is a shambles, and retirement villages play an essential part by providing a style of quality accommodation that people actually want to move to and live in. At this stage of life, they are aspiring for a particular lifestyle which we can provide.

How much do homes sell for in your Windsor retirement village? Are care services offered on site? 

Prices range from £375,000 for a one-bed apartment to £975,000 for a two-bedroom, rooftop apartment with spectacular views over Windsor.

Care can be delivered to residents’ own homes to suit their personal requirements and there is a care home immediately within the site.

What are the main challenges and possible rewards of operating and investing in the older living sector? 

Properly designed facilities and apartments in urban locations will always be in demand and the future demand is significant.

However, I can foresee a serious pinch point heading our way caused by the expanding demographic of an ageing population, and the main challenges are planning, competition for land and expensive build costs.

There is little or no encouragement from the government to help property developers build more affordable retirement accommodation, but this could so easily be avoided with a package of measures that included:

  • Reducing or scrapping stamp duty for the over-60s to encourage older people to downsize. This would really stimulate the retirement village sector by encouraging the aging population to move to purpose built homes for later life, and also have the added benefit of instantly freeing-up more property for young families to move into

  • Introduce ‘Help to Buy’ and part-ownership schemes

  • Stop charging rates on empty property   

Can individual investors gain anything from the retirement living market, or is it mostly aimed at institutional investors? 

We have been approached on many occasions about how to invest in the sector as Castle Retirement Living would like to build more villages. Windsor cost £36 million to build so these projects require deep pockets and development finance isn't cheap or widely available.

Some institutions have looked at the sector on its own merits but few have committed. Syndicated investment is a possibility and, personally, I and many others like the idea of local people investing in local infrastructure. It seems absurd that investment returns on cash are meagre when development finance might be closer to say 9%.

Q&A - what are the challenges of building a retirement village?

Perhaps a government funding pipeline for projects such as retirement villages could be made available and enable the public to invest in retirement village bonds and achieve, say, a 4% return, with government charging say 5%, and the 1% margin would cover admin costs. 

It strikes me that if government got organised, a huge amount of UK infrastructure could be developed or rejuvenated and provide the ‘man in the street’ with a much better return than the pittance most people are getting on their savings.

From start to maturity it might take five years to build a retirement village and reach full occupation - a 5 year bond at 4% would appeal to many investors in investable chunks of, say, units of £1,000 each allocated to specific projects. 

How much of a role will retirement villages play in the UK a decade from now?

The UK is playing a slow catch-up compared to countries like New Zealand where retirement villages are very much the norm. Supply will not keep pace with demand due to the constraints - every town or city with a population of 30,000-plus could sustain a retirement village like Castle View.

It ticks many boxes and creates employment, too. Whilst it has taken 10 years to create Castle View, we are very happy with the business model and we have very happy residents - all mainly from the immediate catchment area.

It’s a village within the town of Windsor. The ultimate test of any new retirement village is ‘would you put your mother in there’ and would she be delighted with the move? - that must be the benchmark. My own mum moved to Castle View about 15 months ago and is very happy, comfortable, living independently and enjoying many new friendships, and all at the age of 86!

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