How retirement villages are putting an end to loneliness among older people

Retirement villages have a key role to play in combatting loneliness among older people, and residents at leading operator Inspired Villages are full of praise for how living in an Inspired community have prevented them from feeling isolated, particularly during the coronavirus ‘lockdown’.

The necessity to combat loneliness has never been more important, given research by Age UK prior to the coronavirus outbreak found there are 1.4 million chronically lonely older people in England, and 225,000 often go a week without speaking to anyone at all.

Inspired Villages, which was established by partner Legal & General in 2017 and operates six villages, builds communities that focus on the physical, mental and social wellbeing of residents, as well as providing specialist, age-appropriate homes. Village team members especially dedicated to supporting every resident with their wellbeing needs, state-of-the-art facilities such as swimming pools, cinemas, restaurants, craft rooms and libraries have all helped ensure residents never feel lonely.

For Carol Parkinson, 80, moving to Bramshott Place in Hampshire three years ago was “the best move I ever made”. Carol’s husband sadly passed away in October 2016 and Carol said: “If I hadn’t moved, I would have been quite lonely, we had a large house and garden, and when my husband passed, I decided it was the best time to move – I’ve never looked back.”

Prior to lockdown Carol would volunteer behind the village bar and at the village shop, as well as take part in line dancing and Scottish dancing sessions. Even during lockdown, which has seen all of Inspired’s villages put in place numerous social distancing measures, Carol has not felt isolated. 

“I’ve certainly not felt lonely, the village grounds are 50 odd acres, so I like to go for woodland walks with a friend and look at the baby ducklings on the pond. You can go for a 40-minute walk, but you end up seeing a dozen people and stopping to chat so that walk turns into an hour and a half,” she commented. 

Meanwhile, Mary Ewing, 78, who lives at Durrants Village in Sussex agrees that it would be hard to be lonely in an Inspired village: “If you can’t make friends here, you’ve got no hope!”

In normal times, Mary organises pool pilates once a week at the village. “There’s really something for everyone to enjoy; bridge, painting, singing, and it’s easy to make friends if you join something you enjoy.”

Mary is full of praise for how the team at Durrants have supported residents during the coronavirus pandemic to make sure self-isolation isn’t isolating. “The restaurant here has been doing Saturday evening three-course dinner deliveries, so I’ve met friends in the garden a couple of times and we’ve enjoyed dinner together at a distance. We’ve been really lucky with the village team here, they are wonderful, I can’t fault them, they’ve been absolutely brilliant and gone out of their way to support us all.”

The support provided by Inspired Villages during lockdown has included: 

  • Working with local providers to set up a village grocery shop that delivers essentials straight to residents’ doorsteps
  • Deliveries of cooked meals while the restaurants have been closed
  • The introduction of a ‘buddy system’ to ensure every resident gets a call from a member of the village team each day for a chat
  • Organised activities such as walks and outdoor sessions with appropriate social distancing, virtual quizzes and much more to help combat isolation. 

Jamie Bunce, CEO of Inspired Villages, commented: “Inspired Villages is committed to helping older people live healthier, independent lives for longer. Since inception, we have been working hard to address the issue of loneliness among older people, which has never been more important than now, during a global pandemic. The fantastic feedback and heart-warming stories we receive from Carol, Mary and so many of our residents is testament to how crucial retirement villages are for transforming the later life experience.”

Currently, there are more than 12m over 65s in the UK, and this figure is expected to increase by 41% to nearly 18m by 2040. However, only 7,000 units are being delivered to the market each year, so the disparity between supply and demand is vast with complications in the planning stages contributing.

“We are currently on track to deliver a further specialist homes for older people over the next 6 years but there is still a significant gap between demand and supply in this country,” added Jamie. “We call upon the government to recognise the numerous health and wellbeing benefits of retirement communities and give us equal parity with housing for first-time buyers and affordable housing.”

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