Not long ago, older people’s choice about where to live was
either to be at home or in one. Now with a strong and accepted
political desire for keeping people independent, housing options
are increasing. Residential or nursing care is now being recognised
as a necessary but final option – only when everything else won’t
The idea of a retirement village, however, is one that still seems
a touch out of tune for the UK, but New Labour has been singing its
praises. Recently, government minister Stephen Ladyman declared:
“We want more of these villages and need to see this part of the
spectrum of choice for older people available to everyone in the
One such development is under way in Milton Keynes. “The idea came
through looking at developing alternatives to institutional care,”
says head of commissioning and customer care, David Moore. “We
recognised that while we needed to maintain a certain level of
provision that should be of high-quality and in modern buildings
and so on, we realised in the future people will be looking for
newer and different models.”
The council had experience of providing extra care – basically
sheltered housing with extra elements – in an establishment built
about eight years ago. “That was on a fairly small scale so through
our commissioning team we were looking at how to develop that,”
adds Moore, who was aware of the growing number of care villages,
such as the Rowntree Foundation in Yorkshire.
“Often people in social care relate the concept of a village with
the institutional type of village for people with learning
difficulties. But we were curious to explore the issue – was it a
proper community or just a ghettoisation?” he says.
To challenge that concept, local politicians and senior officers
went to look at a scheme in the Midlands. “We talked to those who
lived there. It was a very positive experience that confirmed for
us that this was something we could explore further,” says
Although many retirement villages are aimed at the better-off, the
council was looking to provide affordable housing, and found in the
Extra Care Charitable Trust a provider that shared that ethos. The
next challenge was to find the land. The Gyosei School, a former
Japanese-run school, which had been lying empty for three years,
provided the opportunity for re-development.
But was there a need out there? Says Moore: “We targeted around
3,000 people who were aged over 55 to provide information about the
care village and to invite them to an event – in central Milton
Keynes with plenty of parking and good access – to find out all
about it. We were amazed at the response. Over the day more than a
thousand people came along – and about 700 signed up to find out
Although the council identified the available land, planning
permission was still required. Inevitably there was opposition;
some local residents stage-managed a protest at the project’s first
submission to the council’s development and control
“We were more organised the second time,” says Moore. “We arranged
for people to come along and say they wanted the village. Eighty
older people sitting in the gallery all wearing ‘I want the
village’ T-shirts sent a powerful message of support to the
council. The thread through all of this was that we had established
an absolute demand.”
Work is now under way on a 258-home village, which includes 100
affordable rental homes, 90 affordable shared-ownership homes and,
to help balance costs, 68 homes for private sale. Communal
facilities include a restaurant, gym, cafe, shop, library and
launderette. And the environment is well cared for. With
landscaping and plans for winter, sensory and water gardens it’s
clear that if this village is part of the spectrum of care, then
this spectrum is green.
- You need a determined person to see the project through.
- Be fully open and transparent – particularly with those opposed
to the scheme.
- Know your customers and get them on side.
- Do things by committee – sharing responsibility saves
- Play a clever game and hide things from people – you don’t need
- Assume you know what people want.
Name: David Moore
Job: Head of commissioning and customer care,
Milton Keynes Council.
Qualifications: Certificate in residential care of
young people, Diploma in management studies, qualified
Last job: Head of regulation, Hammersmith &
First job: Trainee locksmith at ironmongers.