Eugene Marchese: Bringing generations together.

In this article Eugene Marchese, co-founder of Guild Living, discusses the ageing population, the issues surrounding the current retirement model and the unique Guild Living approach. Read the full column featured in Property Week from Eugene below.

Let’s bring generations together.

Costing $90m to create and returning more than $200m, the film 1917 is an award-winning performance that many in the real estate industry would happily replicate.

Alongside the technical brilliance of the Sam Mendes’ direction, what struck me were the events and personal stories that inspired the masterpiece. How many amazing stories go unheard every day because other, similar heroes live alone, isolated and uncared for?

With the current pressures of Covid-19, the majority of us are experiencing social distancing and isolation. However, many of the UK’s elderly population were already experiencing this, even before lockdown began.

I’m conscious that the property industry is part of the problem; the default position has been to keep older people out of sight and out of mind. This is an intellectually and economically damaging approach, when people entering their ’third age’ have so much to give.

Britain is soon to face a tide of ageing baby-boomers who currently have little in the way of age-appropriate housing. Currently, less than 1% of people aged over 65 live in dedicated retirement communities in the UK.

Investors, like consumers, have quite clear perceptions of retirement communities, and I know very few are positive. Many dedicated retirement homes are far away from amenities and lack good design, with poor consideration for care and wellbeing. Nobody – no matter their age – wants to live in such isolated ‘villages’ that do not encourage engagement with the greater community.

We need to step out of the mould of traditional retirement operators and developers and bring older generations back to the heart of towns and cities.

A starting point has to be offering more choice of where people can retire to and ensuring that independence and wellbeing are at the heart of that offer.

That is why our focus is on city centres where infrastructure already exists. We want people to truly engage with communities – that requires everything to be accessible – but also to help facilitate new life experiences and opportunities.

We are building city centre communities combining architecture and interiors that support ageing, but that also focus on mixed-use elements. Open-plan green spaces, fitness centres, cafés, cinemas, libraries and onsite nurseries mean each Guild Living community will bring different generations together.

I have spent a lot of time listening to older people’s stories and I’ve found that sometimes it takes a simple question to really understand a person and their problems. We are working with academics and researchers, including Professor Malcolm Johnson, who featured on Channel 4’s Old People’s Home for 4 Year Olds, to explore emotional loneliness in older people living in retirement communities.

Fixing the UK’s housing market is going to be a battle. But compared with the ageing crisis looming on the horizon, it is a battle worth fighting to build communities that bring people together.

By keeping older people front and centre, we can actively tackle these issues but also ensure the incredible 1917-type tales from a bygone era aren’t lost within our modern society.

Eugene Marchese is founder and director of Guild Living