Public perception of retirement living shifts following 'lockdown loneliness'

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Retirement community

The UK's independent living retirement market is seeing a surge in demand as over 65s embrace community living in search of new friendships and to revive their social lives. Following the lockdown, insights from the UK’s leading residential property service provider FirstPort, found a 15 per cent increase in average monthly property sales in 2021 compared with 2020, reflecting pent up demand and a change in retirement property needs. 

Research suggests the disconnect between perception and reality of retirement living is breaking down, as over a quarter (27 per cent) of retirees claim the pandemic has changed the way they see retirement living. Independent living retirement homes are attracting over 65s looking for a sense of community (27 per cent) and ways to reinvigorate their social lives (23 per cent), as four in 10 (40 per cent) admit the recent lockdown restrictions have encouraged and confirmed their decision to move into a retirement property. Almost half (48 per cent) of those looking to move hope that it will help them build new connections and friendships.
 
FirstPort manages 1,300 independent living retirement developments across the UK and for the majority, communal lounges are seen as the ‘hub’ of the community. The research was conducted to mark the reopening of communal lounges for residents in England and Wales from 17 May, which have been closed for the last year due to lockdown measures.
 
Following a year of restrictions, one in four (24 per cent) say they’ve felt lonely in the past 12 months and now feel the benefits of connecting with other people, while more than a quarter (28 per cent) of over 65s believe moving into a development with people of a similar age will help them meet new friends. Over one in 10 (11 per cent) confess they are bored of living alone and half of those polled (50 per cent) said they’ve seen just five or less members of their friends and family in the last year.
 
ILC’s Senior Research Fellow, Dr Brian Beach, says: “The restrictions over the last year have impacted all our lives, with some of the impacts particularly affecting older people. This research has highlighted important changes in older people’s perceptions of retirement living and the influence of the pandemic on these changes; nearly a quarter (23 per cent) of those looking to move into a retirement community had not considered this before lockdown.
 
“Hopefully, this shift signals greater awareness of the benefits that retirement communities provide in terms of improved lifestyle and social connections. My own work over the years has demonstrated the value of retirement living in reducing isolation and loneliness, along with better outcomes related to health and independence.
 
“Modern and purpose-built retirement communities will continue to rise in popularity as more and more people recognise their value in enhancing later life by providing ample opportunities to foster social connections. It’s great to see that lounges in these developments are beginning to open again, as they offer vital social contact for many after a difficult year.”
 
Lee Richards, Director of Market Services at FirstPort, says: “This time last year the sector was in a completely different place. The pandemic put off many people considering moving and we saw exchanges during the first lockdown decline by 64 per cent compared to the same period in 2019. However, now the picture is much more positive. As restrictions ease and people build their confidence, interest in specialist retirement living communities has increased with both more properties on the market and more sales. Following an isolating and challenging year, we’re seeing more and more interest from retirees who want to embrace community living, and we encourage anyone wanting to view the properties we manage to get in touch with our specialist estate agency, Retirement Homesearch.”