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Monday, April 10, 2006
Retirement villages
I rather like the idea of retirement villages. But then, anything is better than sending your parents off to live in a vile stinking home where, as Alan Bennett so stingingly put it, "helpless creatures slowly and quite respectably starve to death." And now apparently they are the future - not only good for the people who live in them but also "good news for local communities, by helping health and social care providers to deliver health and community services more efficiently."

On-site care and support in retirement villages can lead to fewer hospital admissions and promote earlier discharge, generating cost savings for acute hospital trusts. Moreover, as older people move into homes specially developed for them, significant numbers of family homes, previously under-occupied, can become available to ease housing shortages.Retirement villages can also stimulate local economies by creating jobs and by residents' support of local shops and facilities.

But isn't there something perverse about creating purpose-built retirement villages when, if you go to large parts of Dorset or Sussex, there are plenty of villages that have already turned into almost precisely that. Why don't the parish councils in these areas stop fighting against the tide, perhaps, and designate their village a zone for the elderly? Put all their effort into making sure that the pavements have no potholes and that the pub has a disabled loo, get those hip retro knitting circles and tea dances going, and watch as their parishioners get happier, more active and more economically contributive.

But then you might end up with Firhall, featured in the weekend Guardian as the first child-free village in the UK. It's the logical conclusion. Kids can man the village shop after school, but they certainly can't kick a ball around in the street. Yet, quite worrying; something that is (just) acceptable for private developments but not for real, organically evolving villages. I'd rather see villages that were elderly-friendly in an inclusive way, a bit like nature reserves, rather than becoming zoos or gilded cages.


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