How the human touch permeates a retirement village

Typically, when people think about retirement, thoughts turn to an old-age home with unfriendly staff, poor quality meals, and hospital-like conditions run to military precision. And yet, the truth could not be further from this stereotype. Retirement living has become big business, especially those estates that cater for comprehensive lifestyle options.

According to Statistics SA, those aged 60 and above make up 8.5% of the country’s population of 55 million. With buyers over the age of 50 therefore representing a significant growth industry in South Africa, there is clearly potential to be had in this mature market. Quality accommodation presents investors with a platform to target upmarket retirement properties that can range from free-standing homes to apartments inside secure lifestyle villages.

But these properties present investors and those living there with more than just facilities that provide for excellent living quality. Instead, the best options revolve around a commitment to people and hospitality.

People first
“While our retirement villages are set in some of the most beautiful parts of South Africa, we do not approach them from the typical property perspective. Instead, we are focused on creating retirement spaces that inspire the soul,” says Garry Reed, MD of Evergreen Lifestyle Villages.

He believes that these spaces must be approached from developing a partnership for life with residents.

“At Evergreen, we build this on four pillars – physical security, financial peace of mind, continuous care and a sense of community – which all work together to transform how retirement living is done,” says Reed. “Our way is built around a hospitality business model that’s focused more on the human touch and less on a building or property methodology”.

According to Reed, this ethos has been designed to permeate all Evergreen’s processes, from training staff to engaging with residents.

“It takes a special type of person to care for the elderly both in a residential capacity and frail care. We look for employees who have a hospitality mindset, are adept at problem-solving and have wonderful communication skills. We believe in ‘on the job’ training. And given the environment we are operating in, our staff are routinely trained in health and safety issues,” says Reed.

More than just bricks
Reed adds that the connection between staff and residents is a critical component in terms of what makes retirement living so different from how it was approached in the past.

“Residents want to belong. They want a place to retire where there is a sense of community. From our perspective, we do this at our lifestyle centres which provide residents with everything from game nights, social events and outings to clubs and special interest groups, so there really is something on offer for each resident,” says Reed.

Some of these include a weekly Park Run and even taking residents to a rugby suite.

“Staff at retirement villages are a critical component. They have to take great pride in their work and compassion for the residents. They need to always be accessible and on call, available to assist or resolve any issues. For us, this personal touch extends to employees greeting residents and making a point of learning everyone’s name. Furthermore, the concept links to a continuous care approach that, irrespective of the life stage a resident is in, sees us providing them with a programme or activity that caters for their needs,” says Reed.

According to Bronwyn Davis, assistant village manager at Evergreen Village in Noordhoek, having the care, patience and time to work with residents forms a fundamental aspect of their training, “We are focused on ensuring that our residents feel safe and heard.”

This sentiment is echoed by Joseph Mthembu, duty manager of the Evergreen Village in Broadacres who thrives on the positive energy that the village environment creates as he ensures residents get the treatment they deserve.
Reed says this reinforces the familiar concept of the customer being king.

“Retirement living must be done in a personal way, offering a superb lifestyle and sense of community. Those properties that do this will be able to differentiate themselves and offer investors a significant platform for future growth,” concludes Reed.