Is this the future of seniors living? 5 insights from a game-changing British community.


by Danny Hammon, Woollam Constructions.

Baby boomers. They’re driving unprecedented lifestyle expectations in the seniors living market.

So, if I’m a provider, how do I change from the traditional resident care and design for this new ‘way of life’?

I visited a village in Bristol, England which is doing just that – providing a world class retirement neighbourhood, the epitome of lifestyle amenities, and services for care on an ‘as and when required’ basis.

The Chocolate Quarters is, as the name suggests, a former Cadbury factory. As I walked toward the distinctive red-brick industrious landmark I felt sure that I was in the wrong place.

Now owned and operated by Saint Monica’s Trust, the former industrial space has been comprehensively transformed into a welcoming mixed-use community of apartments, houses, schools, office space, retail, restaurants and leisure facilities, while also providing an assisted living scheme with on-site care staff (24 hours/7 days) if needed.

Residents of The Chocolate Quarters can tailor the service to their needs; selecting as little or as much support as they choose depending on their requirements. The village’s Care at Home team can provide varying levels of assistance such as;

  • Companionship for social activities or appointments
  • Household tasks like cleaning and cooking
  • Assistance with personal care

And should they want more involved care, the nursing home provides professional care in a sensitive and supportive environment.

The impressive stats

  • The Village consists of 114 one-bedroom apartments, 122 two-bedroom apartments and a 93-bed care home
  • Within the development there is a hair salon, restaurant, bistro, shops, wellness centre, Doctor’s surgery, and a further 86,000 sq ft of commercial office tenancy.
  • The village had 50% pre-sale on the apartments and achieved full occupancy within 18 months
  • The care home runs at a constant 97% occupancy rate
  • The income from apartment sales sits at £55M
  • The care home turns over approximately £4.8M pa with an annual income of £2M from current commercial tenancies, with more to be leased.

Saint Monica’s Trust has not only successfully provided a fresh and innovative approach to consumer demand and needs – they have created a hub of social activity that negates the need for older people to feel like they’re being isolated and instead allows them to feel part of a buzzing intergenerational community.

So, how have they achieved such a successful outcome?

Research, research, research and engagement, engagement, engagement.

Saint Monica’s Trust have other well-established villages but identified the need to offer something different to potential customers.

So, how do you discover what potential customers want?

Ask them.

200 focus groups later with target audiences and the local community, Saint Monica’s Trust identified that residents know what they want.

Insight 1: Open the Gates. Embrace the community and integrate with it.

Insight 2: Provide technology. People of all ages are well in tune with the use of technology and want it readily available.

Insight 3: Don’t design for old people. Design for living and design for a lifestyle.

Insight 4: Families matter. Provide amenity for visiting families.

Insight 5: Make people feel special. People want their dignity, they want to feel valued, they want to make their own choices and they don’t want to feel like they live by someone else’s order.



With insights established, the next step was to select the right group of professionals to bring the vision to life.

I believe this is a critical point in the process when designing a retirement or co-located village that focuses on lifestyle, not care.

Learning 1: Ensure you engage the right design team. When designing a lifestyle model there is no point getting a designer who specialises in care, as care will be the focal point of the design. You need to be engaging an architect who specialises in service delivery type models; think outside of the box – hospitality, resorts, retail. You may even want to engage 2 or 3 architects to work on specific parts of the design relevant to their expertise. In this instance it could be;

  • Hospitality specialist: For the front-end including restaurants, cafes, cinemas, foyer, retail, wellness and office space.
  • Care specialist: For the care home layout to ensure your design accommodates people living with dementia.

Learning 2: Involve the right stakeholders at the right time. Contrary to traditional thinking, there’s a very specific time and place for engagement and recommendations. To achieve a lifestyle model, we can’t let ‘care’ drive the design outcome. It’s important to involve stakeholders that have a background in care, but this involvement has a more efficient impact much later in the development.

Learning 3: Taking a commercial mindset is not a bad thing. The local area buzzes with activity and families, so Saint Monica’s Trust designed their offerings to be attractive – they wanted locals to feel welcome to use the communal facilities and add to the vibrancy of the village.

Getting the design right was one thing, getting the right tenants was another. They approached well established businesses in the surrounding towns and offered them substantial concessions to move their operations into the village. The result has been an ongoing success. The restaurant is run by a local award-winning chef, the local barber and hairdresser now run their business out of the village and the wellness centre is run by a locally established health and day spa.

Many Australian villages provide similar offerings to The Chocolate Quarters, but the difference is that our offerings are generally only available to the village residents. The Chocolate Quarters encourages the general public to dine at the restaurant, catch up for tea and scones in the café, become a member at the wellness centre, get their hair cut at the salon or have their kid’s birthday party in the Cinema.

Not only has this lifestyle development created additional secure and viable revenue streams, it has reignited a town by creating a destination point for the wider community.

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