For over 30 years, the St Ives Group has been a leading provider of quality retirement accommodation and services in Western Australia. By valuing professionalism, integrity, innovation and equality of opportunity, they have created a sustainable and growing business and become an employer of choice in the aged care sector.
Established in 1982, the Group has an impressive record of achievement in the design, construction, marketing and management of retirement villages. They have an equally strong reputation for delivering quality care, support services and facilities for older people in residential care and the community.
In addition to owning and operating retirement villages and residential care facilities, St Ives also provides a full range of consultancy services for the planning, development and management of retirement and residential care facilities. Clients in Western Australia currently include local government, a University and private investors.
The origins of St Ives Group can be traced back to Russell Halpern and Ray Fitzgerald, who had partnered on several projects prior to entering the retirement accommodation sector. At the time, retirement living was a relatively undeveloped sector and Halpern and Fitzgerald saw the opportunity it presented. “There was a niche there,” recalls Michael Heath, Director of the Group. “There was an aging population that needed accommodation, so Russell and Ray looked to get involved.”
Initially, they started by building their own villages. Soon, however, they found themselves in demand and were engaged to oversee the design, construction, marketing and management of villages on behalf of several local governments. Over time, the Group has been responsible for the construction of almost 1500 independent living units and were the first operators in WA to operate an Extra Services Care Hostel – which was opened at their Melville Village by the then Minister for Aged Care, Bronwyn Bishop, on December 2nd, 1999.
Heath himself joined St Ives in April 2012, bringing with him many years of experience in general management across different industries, largely in property development. He was attracted to St Ives due to their reputation as the leading brand in retirement living – an industry he predicts will undergo huge growth in the years to come. “It is such a well-respected brand and it has so much potential.”
St Ives Group is comprised of six divisions – home care, residential care, retirement villages, residential and retirement sales, property management and a registered training organisation. In their retirement village division, they own or manage 974 independent living units across eight facilities. When it comes to home care, they currently deliver 1,100 packages mostly in WA, but also in the Northern Territory and ACT. From a residential care perspective, they have two facilities – one in Murdoch with 140 beds and another in Melville with 49.
In each of those aged sectors, St Ives Group is recognised as a leader. Heath credits their reputation, mainly, to their integration. “As soon as someone decides they want to enter a retirement village, we look after them from that point all the way through the later years of their life,” he explains. “From the time they decide to sell their house to move into a retirement village, we manage everything. That makes us very unique.”
Another thing that makes St Ives unique is their long history. In the many years they have spent designing and building retirement villages, they have come to intrinsically understand and exceed client expectations. With each new village, they learn a little more and get a little bit better. “That makes our villages more attractive than the general market,” Heath says.
The Group’s villages are also centrally located – another aspect that sets them above and beyond the general market. “Almost all of our villages are located adjacent to urban village centres such as Subiaco, Murdoch and Hillary’s, within the metropolitan area,” Heath says. “A lot of people don’t want to move too far from where they’ve been living, and we give them an opportunity that doesn’t necessitate them doing that.”
On the home care front, St Ives Group has been intimately involved with the development of new packages. They were instrumental in running the pilot program for the provision of low band care into retirement villages following protracted lobbying by St Ives, who always believed that residents within villages were as entitled to receive care packages as non-residents were.
“We’ve always done that,” Heath says. “Whenever there’s something new being trialled, we’re one of the first to get involved with it and get comfortable with it, and we become basically the experts in providing it. That sets us apart as well.”
A culture of caring
St Ives Group employs roughly 750 people across its different divisions. Two years ago, Heath says their staff count was close to 380. In the next 18 months, he predicts their numbers will grow to 1000. As they grow, their corporate culture is evolving. Today, Heath describes it as “one where people enter into it because they are committed to making a difference in the lives of the customers.”
Heath says the culture is nurturing and caring, particularly when it comes to the carers in the Group’s residential aged care and home care divisions. “Staff members come because they want to have a more meaningful role, so the culture tends to attract people who are about more than coming to work for a salary.”
Innovation is also an essential part of St Ives culture, which is also very appealing to prospective staff. “We tend to attract people who like the fact that we’re nimble, we’re quick to move, and we tend to be first to market with a lot of things,” Heath says. “I think that’s important to a lot of people. They’re looking for a career in this space as well, and we can provide that.”
The Group’s general real estate business ‘St Ives Sales’ was established over 35 years ago. Since its formation, St Ives Sales has always been regarded as a progressive and professional real estate service. Heath describes the employees of that business as equally caring.
“They manage the whole process for our clients at a very difficult time in their lives,” he says. “It’s not as clean cut as a standard real estate agent who’s there looking to make a quick sale. For us, it’s the start of a very long relationship, so it requires people who are going to be there for our clients.”
A massive opportunity
Moving forward, Heath expects client expectations to increase as the baby boomer generation considers their retirement living options. As a provider at the upper end of the market, he says St Ives is well positioned to meet those rising expectations. “Quality in design and services will be the new norm and operators will need to understand the importance of upgrading older facilities and accommodation units should they wish to remain relevant to the Boomer generation,” he says.
“Equally important will be the provision of smaller location specific ‘connection points’ throughout the village,” he adds. “We ensure there are recreational areas incorporated into the plans of each stage of development complementing the main clubhouse in spoke and hub fashion.”
As far as growth is concerned, St Ives is in the process of completing the final 60 of a total of 360 retirement units at St Ives Murdoch – a development they’re in partnership with Murdoch University on. “That has been a very successful project,” Heath says, “And one of the only ones of its kind, as it involves a retirement village and a residential care facility on the university campus.”
St Ives Group has a current development pipeline of some 616 units valued at just under $370 million.
“If you look at the penetration rate of Western Australians over the age of 65 living in retirement village, it’s currently only seven per cent, so we think there’s massive opportunity,” Heath says. “With the number of people that are retiring over the next 20 years, it would be almost impossible for us to build enough units to keep up with the demand.”
In addition, St Ives has been expanding their property management business, having recently doubled the size of their portfolio under management. Their real estate offices have also continued to grow and are poised for expansion.
“We are a group well placed for expansion,” Heath concludes. “We have the opportunity to be three or five times bigger than we are now in the five to 10 years.”