Get ready for the silver tsunami

Dina Soliman-Pedersen of BrandFull looks at the rise of senior living - and a young form of hospitality.

• Becoming of age
Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh, and the Queen’s husband of 74 years passed away recently, just two months short of his 100th birthday. Reaching 100 is not exclusive to royalty though, it has become more common than at any time before. In fact, the UK’s 13,170 centenarians, in 2019, represented a 73 per cent increase from 2002, with projections that more than a quarter of those born in 2018 will live to be 100.

To put things into perspective, 25 years from now, one in every four in Britain will be 65+. Ready or not, the "silver tsunami" is coming, and it is coming fast.

In the UK and Europe people are living longer, possibly fitter, but with a million people aged 75+ saying they go for over a month without speaking to a family member or a friend, it begs the question; are they living better?

Loneliness and isolation are on the rise, pressure on families, carers and the NHS is mounting. Add to that the real estate that is locked up being underutilised as people age-in place. Sum all that up and voila!, we have two of the nation’s biggest problems on our hands; healthcare/wellbeing plus the housing shortage.

There is no wonder then that a fresh breed of developments and new hospitality concepts targeting seniors are popping up all around. Referred to as senior living, later living, retirement living and in some cases intergenerational living, the attention and investment pouring into this space is both, long overdue and welcomed. The idea is simple, downsize to a smaller flat with all the facilities and services you could need on hand; a spa, library, cafe, housekeeping and the safety of healthcare being available if you ever need it.

The positive impact of those communities is clear for individuals, their families and the society at large. Giving people the chance to remain physically, mentally and socially active for longer, with great facilities and support on hand, provides not just a sense of safety but a sense of connection and purpose.

• Playing catch up
While senior living has a penetration of 0.6 per cent in the UK; equivalent to c.50,000 units, the US and Australia’s levels stand at around five per cent. As for New Zealand, it has a staggering 500,000 units for a population of only five million.

Despite the surge in new developments over the last five years, the UK is playing catch-up and has a long way to go. According to Nick Sanderson, chairman of ARCO (Assisted Retirement Community Operators), less than eight per cent of local authorities have a policy for the specific housing needs of older people. To help accelerate growth and fill the gap, this must change and the government has to play a more active role.

Sanderson explains that until eight years ago there were only four operators in the private sector, and a few not-for profit providers. Now ARCO has more than 70 members and affiliates and operates with 12 full-time staff.

The sector’s only organising body plays a critical role; setting standards and assessing operators against them, as well as providing a much-needed voice to lobby the government. Still retirement living faces big challenges including lack of awareness, lack of scale and shortage of capital – all three feeding off each other. Senior living projects require big investments, and those tend to shy away from new and /or unproven sectors. So, when BlackRock and Goldman Sachs, two heavyweight global investment companies, show interest and invest in retirement housing, others take notice and follow suit.

• From housebuilders to community curators
Later living is not new to the UK, but there has been a big shift in the last few years. Traditionally the sector operated with a builder’s mindset, the emphasis being on bricks and mortar. This is now changing as hospitality-focused brands come into the market with the purpose of developing communities and curating human experiences.

One of the first private operators in the luxury segment is Audley Group, with 20 "villages" dotted across the country. The group also just launched its more affordable brand; Mayfield to make senior living accessible to more people.

Nick Sanderson, the founder and CEO of Audley Group, also chairman of ARCO, says: “Every day I see the benefits we bring to people’s lives. Retirement in this country can be lonely and dull and it really does not have to be this way. Senior living allows people to live better and be physically and mentally active for longer." The majority of his leadership team are hoteliers by background and therefore Audley’s proposition is focused on the resident’s experience and creating a lifestyle choice.

The group prides itself not just on beautifully designed luxury homes and facilities, but also on great service and a committed loyal team. With the majority being recruited locally and trained via the Audley Academy their careers develop within the company and hence stay longer.

Another operator with big growth ambitions is Inspired Villages, backed by Legal & General. With six operational villages and 13 in the pipeline it is on track to deliver a bold target of 5,000 properties.

Tom Lord, COO of Inspired Villages, moved over to senior living from IHG where he had been for 14 years. “I find my job hugely rewarding. We focus on the holistic wellbeing of our 850 residents. We care but we are not carers, so we have domiciliary care partners for when needed.”

According to Lord, the biggest challenge for the sector is not lack of demand, but rather regulations. While New Zealand has the retirement living ACT, incentivising developers to build retirement housing, this is lacking in the UK. Most of Inspired Villages' schemes are new-build with average size of 150 apartments, featuring lounge, spa, cinema, restaurant and café, which is open to the local community.

There are also more than 100 activities a month organised by either the on-site team or the residents. Those range from chess, to yoga to cross- walking and much more. “Our villages truly are buzzing communities," Lord proudly explains. The age range of the residents starts at 55 with the oldest being 103, and he goes to the gym three times a week!

By the time this article was published, Tom and his team had arranged for one of the residents to do a skydive as a celebration of the end of lockdown.

Riverstone Living is one of the newest on the market. Offering five-star hospitality in the heart of London, the show apartments for its first two properties in Fulham and Kensington are now open for viewings. In addition to great design, extensive facilities, on-hand concierge and enviable locations next to London’s cultural hotspots, Riverstone has a unique mix of partners that sets it apart and helps raise awareness among its target audience.

Those partners include Jekka McVicar VMH, the renowned herb specialist, who will be curating herb gardens for residents; Amanda Fyfe, founder of Senior Moves, which helps residents with tips on downsizing; and last but not least, The Good Care Group, offering bespoke domiciliary care to residents who need it.

There is also The Riverstone Club, which encourages building connections among residents, offering a space where they can enjoy both social and quiet time, watching an old classic in the cinema room or enjoying a glass of wine with the neighbours. Jason Leek, CEO of Riverstone Living, says: “Attention to detail is everything for us. Our customers are discerning and appreciate the subtle nods we made specifically for over-65s, such as wider hallways and smart home systems. For example, at Riverstone Kensington residents can install systems by which they can control the lighting and heating in their home, and the same technology serves as a video entry.”

• Intergenerational concepts in Europe
The UK is not the only place where new housing and hospitality concepts for seniors is on the rise. New brands are popping up everywhere, from Berlin to Zurich to Lisbon, the interest is ubiquitous.

Florian Sonigo, co-founder of Opalia Hotels & Residences, has a solid hospitality background having worked with Four Seasons and Hyatt. He moved between France, London, Mexico and the UAE, before finally landing in Lisbon where he is working on the new concept with his business partner.

Their target audience is 50 to 70 years old and their model promotes inter-generational living. The concept has two components; one is extended stay with all the facilities that a modern traveller needs. It would be perfect for the trendy digital nomad, where they can make it home for a couple of weeks or for a year.

The second component is residences which are geared towards the older customer profile. The two components are inter-connected with public areas and facilities allowing people to mingle, interact in a natural way. The idea is founded on a holistic approach to wellbeing, taking nutrition into account, allowing for organic farm-to-table produce, as well as benefiting from gardening as a form of physical and mental activity.

Sonigo and his co-founder, who has a solid background in senior healthcare in France, are now looking for the right site in Lisbon, aiming to launch in 2024. In parallel, they are working hard on developing the brand proposition further and flushing out the finer details of the concept, which promises to be an exciting innovative model in the heart of Lisbon.

Another brand that is taking shape in Zurich is the Embassies of Good Living, which also promotes intergenerational connections. Stemming from personal experience and a strong desire for change, Jan Garde, founder and chairman of the Embassies, set out to redesign later living and creating a product that he personally would find appealing when the time is right. After a thorough market research involving over a hundred visits to senior living and care home facilities, he developed The Embassies, together with a senior management team who are all renowned experts in hospitality, marketing and digitisation.

“We are basically mimicking with later living, the transformation that the hotel sector has gone through 20 years ago shifting from a functional product to an experience-led boutique and lifestyle choice." The Embassies will be located in the heart of the most global cities in the world, where there is culture, life and a real buzz. The idea is very much anti-gated communities, where it aims to be inclusive and embracing the outside neighbourhood rather than shutting it out.

With a background in design and marketing, Garde has a keen eye for interiors and feels strongly about the impact of the aesthetics on people and their mindset. However, it is not just the design of the space, but the entire sensory mix, including smells, textures, colours, layout, every detail matters.

Garde mentions that currently moire than 85 per cent of moving decisions are made on behalf of the elder person, as the move is left much too late. This is why The Embassies will be talking to a younger audience, as people in their mid-sixties, are still making their own life choices.

The Embassies’ model is built on three pillars. Residents and visitors can make use of public restaurants and leisure facilities. A membership provides access to curated events, as well as to gym and spa programmes. In addition, residents can rent an apartment in one of the buildings on a permanent basis. And as a highlight of the global network, members have the opportunity to travel to different locations. The entire experience will be facilitated through the use of technology and to do that, The Embassies have partnered with Forward31, by Porsche Digital.

Jointly with Forward31 as a strategic partner, The Embassies will be building a digital platform and a habitat that provides tailored, premium living in retirement to an affluent customer who wants to live a fulfilling lifestyle for as long as possible. The plan for the Embassies is to be in 30 locations by 2030, all in the top cities of the world. The first House will be opening in 2023 in a German-speaking European city, so watch this space.

We all have parents, grandparents and might even be thinking about our own retirement. The energy and dynamism taking place in the later living space now is really refreshing. There is growing demand, there is talent, creativity and now there is even capital. The silver tsunami is here and hospitality is finally taking notice, getting ready to open new doors and welcome an underserved audience. Senior living within a hospitality context makes sense. Not just that, but it is even, dare I say, exciting! Don’t you think?



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