An elegant new development for retirees has become a discreet addition to a Surrey town, offering elderly buyers both tailor-made housing and a sense of community. Jack Wooler spoke to Martin Brown from developer McCarthy & Stone on their approach to the project.
Augustus House, in Virginia Water, Surrey, comprises 59 apartments for sale or rent. The homes are specifically catered to retirees, and the development includes the variety of amenities that have come to be expected by buyers in such projects. Retirement developer McCarthy & Stone has turned delivery of this kind of scheme into an art form, after building more than 54,000 such apartments since 1977.
The new homes are of one and two bedrooms, all having access to the shared amenities. They include 24 hour assistance and care when necessary, shared spaces, events offering a social life inside the development, and landscaped gardens to provide valuable access to the outdoors.
It is hoped that the picturesque location will appeal to those buyers seeking a village atmosphere, with a number of scenic pastimes alongside retail and dining offerings. Sitting on the border of a conservation area, Augustus House offers expansive views south into the neighbouring Cabrera Trust woodland and easy access to the town’s amenities and transport connections.
The developers were attracted to a central location that would give buyers access to the varied benefits the town provides. The development is situated close to the train station and its nearby shops, the former allowing residents to easily access surrounding towns including Windsor, Ascot and Weybridge.
The site was originally a public car park. An outline planning application on the site was approved at local level by Runnymede District Council in March 2016 for 58 ‘Retirement Living Plus’ (formerly known as ‘Assisted Living,’ and described by McCarthy & Stone as “independence plus support”) apartments.
In addition, permission was given for associated communal areas, including a lounge, restaurant, kitchen, wellness suite and guest facilities – this outline permission was subsequently updated to improve the proposition offered by the design of the communal space, increase the efficiency of the building, and update the apartment designs, increasing the total to 59 apartments.
“We acquired an interest in the site prior to planning permission being granted, and completed on the purchase once we had achieved the permission we required,” explained Martin Brown, development director for McCarthy & Stone South East.
Up to this point, it was still in use as an active public car park. “Immediately following acquisition,” said Martin, “the car park was closed, and we commenced the ground works required to remove the car park surface and form of the basement car park structure.”
A communal building
The final building is a part-four, part-five storey reinforced concrete frame structure, with car parking provided both at surface level and within a basement. When approaching the development, residents, visitors and neighbours are greeted with external facade materials that harmonise with the local vernacular – being predominantly traditional red brick, ashlar render and stone detailing.
The top floor of the building is an inset steel frame system structure, clad using Equitone Tectiva to provide a light, visually distinct appearance to complement the materials below.
The building’s design was influenced by the Roman folly at Virginia Water, explains Martin. “This resulted in the use of classical proportions, feature panels, and a set back, hipped roof,” he explained further. “The limited context around the site allowed us to produce a set piece building hidden behind the High Street, which gradually reveals itself as you approach from Station Parade.”
The resulting building is arranged with apartments in two wings that enclose a south facing garden, which overlooks an adjacent Site of Nature Conservation Importance.
Entering the development from the north side, through the car park and past the electric vehicle charging points, there is a landscaped forecourt and drop-off area, which reportedly required careful consideration in order to integrate the building and car parking within the setting. This directly addresses a prominent main entrance that is directly visible from the principal approach to the site.
Entering the building, Homeowners and Visitors alike are welcomed into a doubleheight reception area, which also accommodates a waiting area, the Estate Management office, and provides lift access to the upper floors.
The entrance reception leads directly into the central Club Lounge, Bistro Restaurant and Wellness Suite, with the back-of-house areas, encompassing a fullservice kitchen, laundry, mobility scooter store and refuse areas, discretely accommodated beyond. These communal facilities are centrally located in order to provide ease of access from all apartments.
Between the two wings of the building, the dual aspect lounge/restaurant space allows access to and from the private landscaped gardens. This area provides a tranquil outdoor setting in which Homeowners can “sit back, relax and enjoy retirement with friends, old and new,” as Martin put it.
The remainder of the ground floor comprises of apartments benefitting from external private patio areas, and the upper floors accommodate the rest of the apartments, guest facilities and accommodation for the 24-hour staff provision.
Augustus House is split between one and two bedroom apartments, each having a shower room, walk-in wardrobe, cupboard, kitchen and living room; the larger apartments also housing an additional cloakroom.
The development is intended to give customers the ability to get the most out of life – the homes are specifically designed to enable those over the age of 70 to do this. All apartments have 24- hour emergency call points, raised height electrical sockets, easy-grip taps, slip resistant tiled flooring, easy-access shower rooms, and access to a lift to all floors. This is further supported by an onsite laundry service, which will return items within 24 hours.
The rooms have plenty of space for buyers to move their belongings into, and enough room to entertain visitors in the comfort of their own home. All apartments benefit from either a balcony or a patio, providing private external amenity space in addition to the communal landscaped gardens. In the kitchens, a range of high quality appliances have been incorporated – everything being designed to make cooking and cleaning as effortless as possible. The bathrooms also have been specifically designed for elder residents, offering both functionality and safety, and all have level access showers, which residents can get in and out of easily, as well as slip resistant tiled flooring and lever taps that turn on and off with ease.
“The entire development is designed for ease, comfort and safety,” detailed Martin, “with the added benefits that Retirement Living Plus brings, in the form of flexible car and support packages that are built around homeowners needs.”
The Retirement Living Plus ethos is supported by a dedicated estate manager on hand during the day, who will be around to aid and guide as and when help is needed. They don’t just take care of the practicalities of running the development, but are also responsible for organising social activities, which homeowners can get involved with as they wish.
In addition, and offering a further sense of community, are the building’s Homeowners Lounge and restaurant. Located centrally within the building, these facilitate a communal lifestyle, the onsite bistro restaurant serving freshly prepared meals daily for the residents to enjoy a social meal.
This sense of social life is accentuated by a guest suite, for when owner’s friends and family come to stay, and a wellness suite and salon for when homeowners would like to get their hair cut, or to enjoy a range of treatments from within the comfort of the development. The wellbeing suite is host to a variety of professionals including hairdressers and therapists, and is equipped with the necessary salon accessories and a therapy table.
Alongside the internal features offered, residents are encouraged and enabled to leave the development, with lifestyle support provided if residents want to take a shopping trip or spend the evening at the theatre, for example. All of these amenities are important assets for the elderly, and, as Martin detailed, with such aspects of life catered for, “they can relax in the knowledge that there is someone there day and night should they need any assistance.”
Tackling the housing crisis
With the project now completed, Martin reflected on why he believes the creation of high quality communal housing for the elderly is more important than ever: “The facts are that there are currently 11.8 million people aged 65 and over, rising to 17.3 million by 2037. One in four say they hope to downsize before they hit old age, yet there are only c.162,000 units of specialist retirement housing for homeowners being built. These demographic changes are bringing a new housing crisis to the fore.”
He commented that many older people are trapped between living in large family houses “which are no longer fit for their needs,” and are moving into care homes before they really need to, or are even ready for round-the-clock help. “This under supply of retirement housing is thanks to Government red tape and a plethora of funding issues,” he said.
Martin concluded on how McCarthy & Stone is partly driven by an urge to tackle a wider problem of undersupply: “Not only does building more specialist retirement homes enable older people to live in more suitable accommodation, but it would free up family homes currently being under-occupied by the millions of older people who want to downsize, and allow these homes to come back to the market for younger people.”
Being awarded a 5-star rating in customer satisfaction for thirteen consecutive years via the House Builders Federation (HBF) New Homes Survey, plus the finding in the survey that 90 per cent of its homeowners saying that moving to one of its developments has improved their quality of life, the developer is succeeding where customers are concerned. Since 1977, it has built over 54,000 apartments, and Augustus House is set to continue this legacy with 59 more apartments that will make a small, but high quality dent in the backlog of specialist housing nationally.