A dilemma facing many seniors is whether to stay in their own home or move to a retirement village. For those who’ve lived in their own home their entire life, the thought of moving elsewhere and letting go of a lifetime of memories is not a decision entered into lightly.
There is an overwhelming amount of information available these days, which can make everything more complicated. Whether you’re single, a couple, or friends arriving at this next chapter of your life, you may begin to wonder what type of retirement village would suit your needs and lifestyle best.
When choosing a retirement village, one of the most important factors to consider is the size of the community, as this can make a big difference to your future lifestyle, overall experience, and general happiness. Smaller, boutique retirement villages are known for their close-knit community where you are not just a number, but you are seen as a person.
To explore how living in a boutique retirement village might be the right decision for you, we spoke to Mark Bindon, the Co-Founder of Oak Tree Group – a boutique retirement village developer and operator with 30 communities across Australia. Oak Tree is renowned for their smaller and very personal approach to retirement living.
With over two decades of experience in the industry, Mark highlighted five unique benefits of boutique retirement communities.
From Mark’s observations over the last 20 years, he has noticed people respond favourably to smaller community living and the connection with others that it brings. Residents who first moved into a typical retirement village may over time, observe the village’s expansion to 300 – 400 people. As the village size increases, that personal touch, and sense of belonging diminishes. As a result, the residents no longer feel the connectivity and closeness that the smaller community once provided.
A boutique retirement village on the other hand, due to its compact size, allows for real connections and friendships to be formed. These friendships then blossom into companionship for activities both within the village where they enjoy the facilities like swimming pools and bowling greens together or hopping onto the village bus to go and do activities in town.
Because Oak Tree is a private company, the founders take every opportunity to connect personally with each village community. As operators, Mark and his team have a vested interest in the welfare of their residents. And the residents value this relationship too. This open channel of communication provides more opportunities for individuals to be heard and allows the residents to feel seen and valued as an important part of the community. At Oak Tree, residents are not just ‘another’ senior in the crowd.
The reality is that people tend to feel more secure in a smaller community than in a larger one because they know everyone, and everyone knows them. This means that residents can take comfort in knowing that there is always someone looking out for them. According to Mark, this is one of the most under-recognised features of a smaller and more boutique community.
“Security is much easier to manage in a smaller village. Being able to see the four boundaries in a smaller village provides residents with a sense of security” says Mark. “Two thirds of our villas are occupied by single people and of those, 90 per cent are women. Safety is a paramount consideration to them, and their safety is our priority. Our villages are tailored to recognise that”.
And it’s not always a matter of physical security either. There is security in companionship which leads to a greater quality of life.
“Of course, there are terrific security systems in every one of our communities but that’s not the only thing we’re talking about here. There is a certain intangible value people place on knowing and caring about the people around them,” Mark said.
One of the key differences between Oak Tree and other providers is the level of personal staff involvement with the residents.
There is a dedicated local Village Manager and support team so that the residents can easily communicate with them in times of need and can get help in-person. A quick response time provides greater peace of mind for residents.
“We are not in the property business; we are all about the people. All our efforts are made revolving around that. We are all about engagement, communication, support and connectivity with family” explains Mark.
The staff who work at Oak Tree reflect these values too. “We are looking for people who engage with residents and always put people first. We look for people people” says Mark.
Moving into a retirement village is a big stage in your life, and so it is comforting to have this level of trust and ability to trust those around you.
A smaller village provides a much quieter, more laid back and safer environment than bigger, more commercial retirement villages.
Mark explains that “at Oak Tree, we carefully control the design of our villages. All villages are developed very thoughtfully to make sure vehicle movements are limited and that there are breakout areas where people can spend time with family away from resident houses to ensure noise is kept to a minimum.”
Although life within the boutique village is tranquil, that doesn’t mean that the location is fully isolated from ‘the outside world’.
“Choosing our village locations is all about the supporting infrastructure to make life easier” says Mark. This means that Oak Tree Retirement Villages are conveniently located near essential services such as doctor’s offices, shops, community services and parks – just to name a few.
“We want our villages to be a part of the community, and not just isolated from the things that are important to our residents’ day-to-day life”.
According to Mark, he would rather develop several smaller villages in a region than one large-scale village without the sense of community, friendliness, and security that residents enjoy in a village where they know each other well.
Boutique villages balance the features available to residents with the amount people want to pay in ongoing fees.
“Through 20 years of resident feedback, the Oak Tree team have achieved a great balance. Most developments are designed with only the features people will use like bowling greens, pools and gardens and they leave out the things that don’t get used as often,” said Mark.
Over the years there has been demand for gymnasiums, and as a result, more of these are being put into many of the villages. Mark and his team are also seeing a growing interest in alternative medicine, yoga, and pilates. Some residents, aware of food quality are also interested in growing organic produce. Taking all this feedback onboard, Mark says they are making more investments in these areas.
If safe, vibrant and caring communities sound like what you’re looking for, then contact Oak Tree’s friendly staff to learn more about their boutique retirement villages and how they could suit you.
You may also like to consider downloading the helpful free checklist put together by Starts at 60 in partnership with Oak Tree: “Considering a Retirement Village: The Ultimate Checklist”. This free e-guide is packed with critical information and easy-to-complete exercises to help guide your journey into retirement living.
Download your copy of the 'Considering a Retirement Village - The Ultimate Checklist' which provides comprehensive information on everything you need to know before you start your journey into retirement village living.