In the UK, the vast majority of over 65s live in mainstream housing. In fact, only 0.6% of them live in retirement communities, 10 times less than in more mature retirement housing markets such as the USA and Australia, where over 5% of over 65s live in housing with care. Could this lack of provision in the UK be a consequence of the wrong kind of supply?
After a long career in a variety of care settings, I have recently started working with Origin Active Lifestyles - a privately owned developer operator of ageing in place communities. Based in Canada, we are already present in three countries, supporting 800 residents and 600 team members. Origin has been actively working to establish its operating model in the UK for the past 3 years.
Our focus is whole person wellness, physical and spiritual wellbeing. Customers will typically be in their early 80s, but for them, care is just another service, because principally, they are looking for ‘wellness.’ Founder and CEO Neil Prashad is clear:
“We’re not selling real estate, we are improving lives so you can say - we’re not selling the cabin; we’re selling the cruise.”
In my view, this is a completely fresh and original approach with customers at a unique stage in their life. While the industry largely tries to convince someone to buy their dream real estate when they are already living in their dream real estate, we don’t mention real estate for the first 10 minutes of the sales conversation. For us, it’s not about suite or facility features; it’s about helping each person to understand how their health and lifestyle objectives can be realized. Interestingly, what I have found in my short time with Origin is that families may not want a complicated event fee or a service charge they keep paying after their loved one dies. Instead, what they prefer is the ease of rental when considering the inevitability of a move out because of their relative passing away or having to move to a higher level of care.
Back in the UK, the number of specialist older people’s housing units that offer on-site care and rental, is set to increase from 750,000 units to 820,000, roughly 10%, by 2025 according to Knight Frank. The growth is being fuelled by an inflow of capital investment and new operating platforms. Last year £450 million was invested in the sector with a further £1.3 billion due to be committed.
I believe that this inward investment presents significant opportunities to the sector and, in particular, what Origin has to offer. Our “Eco-System” – a continuum for active ageing that includes assisted living, long term care and memory care services; staff training; community outreach through an at-home wellness service and a seniors club; and in the future will offer hotels for global tourism and rehabilitation, is a true Integrated Retirement Community. All the amenities of the Origin facility have a front door, open to the wider community coming in, and a back door available to Origin residents.
With this in mind, and the government’s recent Levelling Up White Paper with its reference to a Housing for Older People Task Force into better accommodation choices and housing quality in later life, we want to open our doors to the UK market and have plans for developing Integrated Retirement Communities in two locations where we have identified sites and submitted planning permission – South London and East Midlands. These will follow the Origin model – a home for life, with a 60 room care home on-site, approximately 40 assisted living units and a similar number of independent living apartments. We aspire to building and operating up to ten such communities in the UK in the medium term.
Finally, we know that the seniors’ housing and care industry is changing, and lifestyle choice is the driver. As Neil notes,
“2021 was the year baby boomers start turning 75 and the paradigm is shifting. We have a whole new customer who says, ‘I don’t want what you gave my Mum – it’s up to you to figure out how to give me what I want.”
Sara Livadeas has 30 years’ experience working in social care. She is currently advising Origin Active Living UK (opens new window).
And, if you found this blog of interest, for more information on retirement living and would like to read a range of other resources on housing for an ageing population, visit the Housing LIN’s dedicated ‘Housing for Older People’ pages.