Retirement living has been a hot topic of discussion in recent years, with information (and misinformation) about retirement village contracts, service levels and the lifestyle you can expect providing fodder for plenty of fierce debates in the 60-plus community.
But if you’re planning on downsizing, missing out on a great solution that the right retirement village could provide simply due to negative headlines, would be a real shame.
So Starts at 60 talked to Gordon Crawford, a retired businessman who lives at Tarragal Glen Retirement Village, a RetireAustralia village on the New South Wales Central Coast, to sort the fact from the fiction.
As a member of the residents’ committee at Tarragal Glen, Gordon keeps a close eye on how the village operates. He advises carefully researching the company behind any retirement community you consider buying into, because a little bit of digging will quickly give you a feel for how the village is managed and resourced.
“They’re not all good but they’re not all bad either,” he says of retirement village providers. “I believe that RetireAustralia is really concerned about making Tarragal Glen the best village it can be. They’re in there for the long term and are keen to work with me and the residents’ committee on a five-year plan.”
That five-year plan will potentially see RetireAustralia and the Tarragal Glen residents’ committee work in partnership to ensure the village’s facilities are in sync with residents’ goals for community life in the village. “Basically, the target of the total plan is that Tarragal Glen becomes the best retirement village in the world!” Gordon says.
That said, moving to a village with a positive mindset is important, he notes, because your enjoyment depends on your own perspective – like most parts of life.
“I’ve found that some of the residents have a negative view of anything,” he observes. “They misinterpret the Retirement Villages Act, they look at activities with almost a negative viewpoint. They’re not looking through rose-coloured glasses, but the opposite.”
While Gordon and his wife Sue Kemp moved just a few kilometres from their family home to Tarragal Glen, he says residents from further afield quickly establish a new social circle at the village.
“What I hadn’t appreciated before I moved in was the extent of the social life and the community support that exists inside the village,” he says.
“I can walk out of the house almost anywhere, anytime and someone will talk to me or I’ll want to talk to them. I live with my wife but at the end of the day, if one of us dies, the other one will be left, and whoever is left will know that there’s 40 or 50 people around the village that they can talk to, have a drink or a bite to eat with, or a game of table tennis, or whatever.
“Within the village there’s a genuine community, where people care for each other. It’s like the old world that doesn’t exist elsewhere anymore.”
“Tarragal Glen has so many activities for residents, Gordon reckons he may have a few too many commitments but “I’m certainly not bored,” he jokes.
He and Sue run happy hour at the village’s bar one Saturday night per month, and there’s also euchre, tai-chi, yoga, a theatre group, a new barbecue area, a gym complete with a personal trainer, a bowling green, a pro-standard table tennis room, restaurant, dance floor and much more for residents to choose from.
“We came out of a beautiful home and I don’t miss it,” he said. “When they come to see the place at Tarragal Glen, everyone says, ‘oh, have you really downsized?’. We have better living here than we had then. We came from four bedrooms to three bedrooms. Big deal!”
The village itself is set in bushland on a 12-acre footprint so has an unusually large amount of outdoor space, which Gordon makes the most of.
“I can walk out of the back of my house and go for a half-hour walk without ever stepping off grass. And I get to see some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. Every time I wake up and look out the window, I have to pinch myself, like this is a crazy dream. Of course, you couldn’t move into a retirement village, and it’d be like this, but it is. It really is.”
The size of Tarragal Glen means that residents aren’t living on top of each other, Gordon adds, with privacy available when it’s needed due the way the residences are designed.
“We’ve got two patios at our place,” he explains. “One is partially closed so you can’t see anybody else. And the other one is open and looks straight out across the pond into the park, and I can look over rolling hills, or I can watch the ducks playing in the water around in the pond. It’s beautiful.”
Gordon recommends attending open days at any village you may be considering buying into, to view multiple properties and speak to residents to get a range of honest opinions on what village life is like.
If Gordon could give just one piece of advice, it’d be to move into a village earlier than you planned – even though the prospect of leaving your long-time home is probably something you’re inclined to postpone.
“You become very attached to your home and leaving it – going through the process of what I call the end of the journey home – is psychologically difficult,” he says. “But I’ve seen people who left it too late, and the move basically kills them, and I didn’t want that to happen. So instead of moving in at 79 or 80, which was my original plan, I moved at 72. I’d say your 60s is a good time to do it.
“Two years back, when we came to look at a villa at Tarragal Glen, I was looking for something to move into in four or five years, but once we saw the villa and the location, I thought ‘we’re never going to get a better opportunity’ so we bought a house and moved in. And I’ve found all sorts of benefits to living here.”