A place to call your home
With thirteen retirement villages across New Zealand, Summerset Retirement Villages is now the third largest operator for retirement living in the country. In 2010 it was named best retirement village operator in both New Zealand and Australia, beating out more than 1100 other operators at the Australasian Over-50s Housing Awards.
Summerset started in 1994 as a provider of rest home and continuing care facilities. In 1997 it had built its first 14 retirement village residential units, and had begun providing a full range of aged care services and living options for residents. Today Summerset has grown in both size and recognition to become a leader in its field. And there are no signs of slowing down.
Innovation in design
Summerset has developed some of the most innovative retirement housing options. The company has an alliance with Lifemark, ensuring they can provide their customers a product that meets their ever-changing needs. Using the Lifemark standard of building and design, Summerset ensures all homes are easily accessible and adaptable. There are 33 different design features including widened doors and passageways for wheelchair accessibility, flat surface showers and level entry included in Lifemark’s independent standard.
“It’s all about innovation. There are simple things we can do to make everyday living significantly better than at your traditional home in the suburbs. The homes that we provide in our villages have various functionalities that change as the need of the customer change,” says Summerset CEO Norah Barlow. But, while Summerset aims to take precautions and offer residents accessibility, they never want to create a design which makes their residents “feel old”. Instead they see it as making sure the newest stage in their lives is one to be made the most of.
Norah has been involved with Summerset for ten years and is well-known to be an incredible leader and asset for the company. She says there are certain attributes that people are looking for when choosing a village and Summerset’s goal is to not only meet these expectations but rather surpass them.
For example, Summerset unlike many of its competitors allows pets within its villages – and actually encourages it knowing the benefits these companions bring to older people. The company encourages residents to incorporate their own personalities and style into their homes. “If our residents want to paint their walls bright pink then they should! Even though they’re older they are still the same people they always were,” says Norah. The company has the attitude that if it is your home, it needs to reflect you.
Trends and challenges
No industry is without its challenges, and when working with people and their homes it is crucial to be able to adapt to the industry’s changing demands. There has been a definite increase in the larger providers of aged care in the past few years, and with this the structure of the industry has changed significantly. “The customers’ understanding of the retirement village concept versus the previous perception of a rest home has dramatically shifted,” Norah says.
Summerset residents report a 96 per cent satisfaction level in 2010 and this can be attributed to a range of different factors. Summerset offers several different types of accommodations for its residents. Residents have a choice between three different types of accommodation with different levels of care, all encompassing nothing less than the Summerset standard of excellence. Residents can choose to live independently in a villa in which they have complete control over all aspects of their lives. Here they benefit from being part of a community and can socialise with other individuals living in the same community. Or residents can opt for supported living in one of Summerset’s apartments. Supported living is great for individuals who require care within the home. Lastly, Summerset offers care apartments and has care centers providing rest home and hospital level care. These offer dedicated, around the clock care to those who require it. There are always Registered Nurses and caregivers available. Additionally, medical practitioners, podiatrists, and hairdressers visit the villages on a regular basis. Whatever the option, all residents are promised the best care, certainty, and a respectful environment to call their home.
Treating people as people
The reason Summerset villages have become such a desirable places to live is due to the company’s simple philosophy of treating people as people. “We understand that people can make their own decisions and choices which is why we don’t restrict,” says Norah. Summerset takes their residents wants and needs seriously and is always actively listening to ensure they are met. Working in this industry, caregivers often lose sight of the work they do and the people with whom they`re dealing with, which is why Summerset undergoes a rigorous selection and recruitment process to find the best employees. Through excellent training, support, and by developing a culture within their villages, Summerset then works to make employees feel valued. “From Norah all the way through to our caregivers, the value set that our staff holds are very similar to the value set that our customers hold – we get it. When someone is talking to us, we get it and we try our best to understand them. It’s something that people have actually commented on – that we’re people people,” says Tristan Saunders, Summerset’s General Manager of Marketing and Sales. He says the company aims to welcome people and show their residents and potential customers the same respect and care that they would treat people with within their own homes. “It’s the simple values like making new people feel comfortable, welcoming them, offering them a drink and a seat– all in a genuine and honest way.”
The Summerset difference
Summerset aims high and has a long-held goal of separating itself from its competitors. “We believe that we can do this using an inherent accessibility in our design, and using our proven development ability to deliver the right product,” says Norah.
Summerset is the first village operator in New Zealand to voluntarily place accessibility standards on to its new builds. “By incorporating accessibility in our design thinking we do not add any meaningful amount to the cost of build and we are able to make our offering appealing to a much wider audience.” It was during the time this decision was made that Summerset teamed up with independent design assessor Lifemark. The Lifemark trademark was developed through the disabled community ands based upon the concepts of universal design, meaning homes are designed and built to be more accessible, more adaptable and work for everyone – regardless of age, stage or mobility. The Lifemark standards are perfect for retirement village residents who face a range of accessibility challenges that change as they grow older
While the Lifemark trademark isn’t mandatory in homes across New Zealand, it has worked to ensure the needs of the consumers are met as they change over time. The Lifemark trademark has been positively received by consumers since it was established in 2009, with many calling for it to be the standard in every new home.
The future of Summerset
Summerset expects to see more people and more people choose its villages. The high standard of care provision available in each village, as well as the accessibility features which they offer makes the company an incredibly attractive option. Summerset is currently a relatively large company in the industry, with 13different villages, but there are no plans to slow down with demand for the Summerset offering increasing exponentially. The future of Summerset is looking bright. The company currently has enough development to double its size over the next five years. Summerset is also actively looking to acquire new sites and develop new villages across New Zealand over the next decade. “The demand will continue to increase for our offering, and I believe our brand will be a household name representing the best on offer in the market in our customers and staff eyes,” says Norah.