I, together with three others, established Inspired Villages alongside Legal & General in 2017 because I passionately believe that integrated retirement communities (IRCs) can really transform how we experience later life in this country.
It is undeniable that with old age comes health challenges but the traditional stereotype of getting older as being a time of deterioration and loneliness does not have to be true, and models such as the IRC model help reduce the likelihood of this, which is backed up by research.
GP visits for these communities has been seen to reduce by 46% and planned hospital visits by 31%, with the length of stay reduced to just 1-2 days rather than 8-12, according to the Aston Research Centre for Healthy Ageing ExtraCare Charitable Trust. Furthermore, the need to move into more high-cost care settings like a care home was reduced by half. IRCs achieve this in a number of ways.
Homes discreetly designed for ageing
In our villages, the considered design of the homes accommodates changing needs as you age, from lower windowsills and plug sockets placed higher up, to doorways wide enough for wheelchairs and reinforced bathroom walls so railings can be put in if necessary. We use technology like tablets that allow us to check in with residents every day, alarm pendants connected to Careline, and eGym equipment, which offers personalised workouts, in our fitness suites.
Our engaged village teams also support with things like property maintenance, cleaning to reduce chances of injury or falls, and are always happy to have a chat over a cup of tea, to help stop residents feeling lonely.
Vibrant village centres
We are about building communities at Inspired Villages because we know how important this is to mental and social wellbeing. Village centre facilities such as swimming pools, cinemas, restaurants, meeting rooms and libraries allow residents, their families (so many residents note their grandchildren love coming to use the pool), and the local community (we open our leisure facilities to locals) to get together, socialise and have fun.
On top of this, our ‘wellbeing navigators’ organise numerous activities for residents from Pilates to paddleboarding to help add to the vibrant atmosphere and provide that little nudge to residents to keep residents active and socialise.
The pandemic has really opened our eyes to the serious health risks that loneliness can have – especially for older people who might be living alone. More than a million elderly people say they go for a month without speaking to a friend, neighbour or family member (NHS, 2022).
Our focus on creating vibrant villages that integrate with the local community, as set out above, is a key part of our strategy for reducing loneliness in older people. We’ve also set up Inspired Friendships, a befriending service that operates in the local communities around our villages for non-Inspired residents, because we want our impact to go as far as possible. Inspired Friendships members are regularly invited into the villages to socialise with residents too with both parties getting a lot out of the interactions.
It is clear therefore that IRCs have a strong role to play in this country’s social care system.The government’s Social Care Whitepaper released in late 2021, has even acknowledged the role integrated retirement communities can play in supporting the social care system and NHS. Building retirement communities on a wider scale across the UK will act as a solution towards a more long-term solution to the ‘broken’ social care system.
We hope with this greater understanding of IRC’s benefits as a model of care, we will see greater support from government and local planners to develop more across the country and perhaps turn around our perceptions of old age and make it something we look forward to.