Keeping extra care and retirement housing residents and staff safe, engaged and happy during the COVID-19 pandemic

Blog Aileen Evans
Aileen Evans
Chief Executive, Grand Union Housing Group & President of the Chartered Institute of Housing

In late April, the St Monica’s Trust released a new report examining the response to the COVID-19 pandemic by operators of extra care housing and retirement housing villages. The report, Retirement Village and Extra Care Housing in England: Operators’ experience during the COVID-19 pandemic – RE-COV Study, was funded by the Dunhill Medical Trust and supported by the Housing LIN and I was delighted to be asked to be part of the steering group for it.

The ground-breaking project aimed to better understand the experiences of retirement villages and extra care housing during the pandemic and a key focus of it examined the effectiveness of measures taken to safeguard the health and wellbeing of residents and staff.

The results were clear and demonstrated that there was a lower-than-expected proportion of residents in both settings who died from COVID-19 by comparison with those of the same age profile living in the general population. So why was this? It was directly as a result of the things operators did to keep residents and staff safe as well as the initiatives they took to help keep people engaged and happy.

At the start of the pandemic my colleagues at Grand Union sprung into action to help keep our customers in our extra care facilities safe and well. A critical part of this was ensuring our colleagues were also safe and making sure they had the correct Personal Protective Equipment was key. For example, we closed communal facilities and increased cleaning, as well as taking the difficult decision to restrict access for visitors and family. We also made sure that our customers had food and access to their prescriptions. Most certainly, a big factor was the design of our services – self-contained, individual apartments enabled our customers to isolate and keep safe.

Whilst safety was paramount, mental health (opens new window) was also important. When restrictions allowed, organising events outside where people could socially distance was vital in helping people stay connected. Our customers told us that they felt supported and cared for – not least because of the regular communication and reassurance. In fact, we made regular wellbeing calls to customers to ensure they had everything they needed and let them know that we were here for them if they needed us.

There were a number of recommendations arising from the study to help tackle future pandemics – although I think they are relevant in any circumstances.

I often think that housing with care or support is not well understood and key to changing this is creating a broader awareness, not just amongst the care and housing sectors but with the public more generally. For example, if I told you that there was a place that your parents or grandparents could live where they’d be safer, supported and less isolated then I suspect you’d jump at the chance – extra care and retirement villages offer just that. They are well designed spaces that offer a great quality of life with the availability of support when required. And, what’s more, as this research  demonstrated, they are also safe, providing the support to help keep residents physically and mentally well during this most difficult of times.

Isn’t that what we all want?

If you found this blog by Aileen of interest, you can also read a range of other resources on specialist housing and the impact of COVID-19 on the online Coronavirus Info Hub curated by the Housing LIN.

Lastly, if you would like to find out more about how the Housing LIN can support you develop your housing for older people strategic vision and/or operational plans to meet the future accommodation needs of older adults, please email us at:


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