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Are IRCs the silver bullet for golden years in London?


Having recently traded the tranquillity of my Lincolnshire hometown for the bustling streets of London, I found myself drawn by the city’s vibrant culture, global connectivity and catalogue of overpriced coffee shops. I was quick to buy into the belief that London is tailor-made for the ambitious and sprightly. However, I couldn’t help but wonder – is London more than just a stepping stone for the young? Can it be a place we can truly call home in our retirement years?

In light of Meeting Place’s membership with ARCO, the UK body representing the Integrated Retirement Community sector, and its recent webinar on retirement living in the UK, I wanted to explore what retirement looks like in the capital, and how IRCs could be the answer to the looming challenges posed by an ever-growing population of over 65s.

All that glitters as we grow old

Six of the ten best places to retire in 2024 are in London, according to The Times. Beyond its rich history and diverse culture, the city boasts a variety of green spaces, robust transport links, world-class medical care and endless opportunities to enjoy a vibrant social life. Aside from the vast greenery, these are elements that, as a native of a rural market town, I can attest would be a rare find back home.

In theory, London seems like a great place to retire, but is there sufficient suitable housing for the golden agers? Probably not. With the over 75s population set to double in the next 20 years, the UK must address the need for purpose-built specialist homes for older people.

Auckland, New Zealand, is a step ahead of us when it comes to providing Integrated Retirement Communities, providing housing-with-care for 9,000 of its 190,000 residents over 65. This stands in stark contrast to London, where housing-with-care is available for only 8,835 residents in a population of over one million over 65s.

Finding homes in London

While we’re drawn by the fast pace of city life, it’s crucial to note spending on planning and development services for local authorities in London has dwindled by about 50% from 2010 to 2019. The economic landscape has rendered it nearly impossible for younger generations to get onto the property ladder, turning the prospect of home ownership in London into a pipedream for many.

Finding rental properties is no walk in the park either. While searching for homes with my three housemates, we often felt cheated out of the race by competitors who could offer several months’ rent upfront. Enabling retired homeowners to move to more suitable housing with care, could help free up properties for young people, making it easier to get onto the housing ladder in London.

Could IRCs help solve the problem?

Adopted by ARCO, the term Integrated Retirement Communities (IRCs) describes independent living in self-contained homes, within a broader community that provides an array of lifestyle, well-being, and care services. IRCs prioritise the independence of residents, seamlessly integrating state-of-the-art facilities including restaurants, spas and cinemas with personal and domestic care offered from the comfort of home.

These havens could be the solution to the UK’s impending housing crisis for the elderly. Yet the UK falls way behind other countries when it comes to delivering them, with 6.1% and 4.9% of the population living in IRCs in the USA and Australia, respectively, compared to just 0.6% in the UK.

Inspired Villages recently completed the UK’s first Carbon Net Zero IRC at Millfield Green, showcasing what’s possible when thoughtful planning and sustainability principles aim to meet the unique needs of an older demographic.

In Battersea, a borough with a notable ageing population, the integration of IRCs has demonstrated promising results in supporting the well-being of older individuals.

To conclude…

As London’s population of over 65s continues to grow, the need for suitable retirement housing becomes increasingly pressing. The city, often perceived as a sanctuary for the young and ambitious, has the potential to be an ideal retirement destination.

Building more IRCs in major cities like London, will enable retirees to enjoy the rich cultural tapestry, great connectivity, and thriving community cohesion, whilst also freeing up homes for young first-time buyers. More IRCs would also give seasoned Londoners the option to remain in the city they’ve enjoyed throughout their working life.

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