As trends change, residents want more from retirement living

Last updated on 20 October 2023

VMCH’s latest retirement living offering, St. Clare, is a modern apartment building focused on providing continuity of care. [Source: Supplied]

Evolving trends in the retirement living space are bringing added layers of luxury to the ageing experience with the rise in apartment living one such example. Gone are the days of units in enclosed streets, now there are modern apartments situated on top of bars, restaurants and cinemas, all of which are surrounded by green spaces to enjoy.

This shift has been spurred on by attitude changes towards retirement living. Older Australians want to remain at home for longer and they want to be embraced in the community, not excluded from it. Therefore, aged care providers, developers and architects are constantly on the lookout for new ideas that’ll attract residents and meet their expectations. 

“We’re seeing a more discerning cohort of retirees compared to the previous generation who were more prudent having faced economic and political uncertainty. I think the next lot of baby boomers coming through, it’s no secret they have higher education standards and they are more financially and politically aware,” explains Liz Hickey, VMCH Executive General Manager of Retirement Living. 

“They have higher expectations, they’re not inclined to accept the status quo and they want flexibility and transparency [when making choices]. There is also more acceptance for this new kind of vertical retirement offering that can still deliver on living space, particularly in the inner suburbs where there is land scarcity.”

VMCH (Villa Maria Catholic Homes) is well versed in aged care, home care and retirement living spaces, but that doesn’t mean they continue to rest on their laurels when designing for an ageing population. 

The next incarnation of retirement living will begin to take shape in 2024 when construction begins on St. Clare, based in Kew, just outside of Melbourne’s CBD. Billed as a new standard of living for retirees, the site will include 104 premium apartments with shared spaces that include amenities like a pool, wellness centre, bar and cinema. Apartments are generously sized with two bedroom and three bedroom options, including a penthouse that’s just as large as a home on your typical subdivided block.

St. Clare features an equal mix of green spaces with 50% of the site dedicated to the outdoors. [Source: Supplied]

It’s just another example of how aged care innovators are looking to capture the essence of a community and centralise it under one roof. But with that comes a need to ensure physical space that so many Australians are used to living with is not lost. Hence the focus was on producing innovative living quarters larger than the average Melbourne apartment. 

“We’ve never gone with a cookie-cutter approach, we’ve always based our developments on the suburb it’s in and the local buyer profile which is really important for us. The research was conducted with local and potential residents through focus groups, including those already living within VMCH retirement living settings,” Ms Hickey said.

“We have also been learning from not only what we are doing well in our other communities but also the learnings we took from certain aspects of the communal spaces and what could work better.”

“In one of our nearby communities, we have a private dining room and it’s not just used for dining, it’s used for book clubs or birthday parties. It’s really useful for residents and given we’ve had such great take-up of that space we put two private spaces into St. Clare. It’s all about understanding what they want.”

Continuity of living is key

Retirement living communities have often had some link to aged care, although not always. In decades gone by it was still just as likely that someone would have to move into a separate aged care home once, leaving behind a community they loved. 

A speakeasy themed bar provides a unique offering for residents and visitors who want to have a drink without leaving home. [Source: Supplied]

Nowadays, co-located sites are common but in the case of St. Clare, VMCH recognised the community was already well serviced by aged care. And so, they opted for independent living that could be scaled up with support services for residents to age in place. From simple hotel-style services to professional home care services, everything has been designed to be flexible.

“Residents want the security [of aged care services] particularly for couples moving into retirement living, we see that being a driver for some people. The knowledge that we do have 14 aged care facilities and we do assist [residents] if they have to face that next step [helps],” Ms Hickey said.

“We can support them to stay in the retirement village and we can certainly assist and help them to navigate aged care which is a well-known and difficult transition for residents and their families.”

The next stage of retirement living, and aged care as a whole, appears to be built on what residents want. Target audience research is uncovering specific desires and that in itself is attracting residents well before construction has even begun: approximately 25% of St. Clare’s rooms are already sold with focus group participants making up the bulk of the first depositors. 

Investing in residents before construction has even begun shows there’s so much potential to be gained from the consumer experience. Ms Hickey’s insights show this has been a key focus for VMCH, and she said the next step is hiring a customer relationship manager to build the community. That’s before the community even has a physical presence. 

“We’ve taken great care to ensure the residents come on a journey with us,” she added.

aged care provider
retirement living
retirement living communities
aged care trends
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Liz Hickey
retirement living provider
design and innovation